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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 16:52 GMT
Two Israelis killed in West Bank
Israeli tank
Palestinians say the eased blockade is a sham
Two Israeli civilians have been shot dead and two injured by Palestinian gunmen on a West Bank road near Jerusalem, Israeli security sources said.

The Israelis were in their car at a roadblock near the Jewish settlement of Nokdim, south of Bethlehem, when the Palestinians opened fire, according to rescue workers.

Maysun Hayek holding her new-born daughter
Maysun Hayek gave birth after her husband was killed

One of the wounded was a pregnant woman - the third to be injured in the West Bank in two days.

Earlier on Monday, a pregnant Palestinian woman was wounded and her husband shot dead by Israeli troops at a checkpoint on the West Bank.

Another pregnant Palestinian woman was shot and wounded at the same checkpoint on Sunday.

All three women later gave birth to healthy babies.

The incidents came as Israel relaxed its blockade of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat - but said he would continue to be confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Palestinians denounced the move as inadequate, and the European Union said it expected "a full relaxation" of Mr Arafat's confinement.

Weekend shooting

Monday's shooting of the Palestinian and his pregnant wife occurred at Balata, near Nablus.

Maysoun Hayek said her husband, Mohammed, decided to drive her and his 64-year-old father to the Rafidia hospital in Nablus after she went into labour in their village of Zeita, 20 kilometres (12 miles) away.

Mrs Hayek said that, as they approached the checkpoint, she heard a single shot.

Mr Hayek was killed and his father critically injured.

The Israeli army said "preliminary" information showed the car had tried to force its way through a roadblock, before troops opened fire.

Also on Monday, troops shot dead a Palestinian woman after she tried to stab soldiers at a roadblock near Tulkarm, the Israeli army said.

Israeli troops have been on high alert since six soldiers were ambushed and killed by Palestinian militants at a checkpoint in the West Bank last Tuesday.

Restrictions eased

Hours after Israel decided to ease Yasser Arafat's confinement, tanks withdrew from the area around the Palestinian leader's headquarters in Ramallah.

Maysun Hayek holding her new-born daughter
Israel will still not allow Arafat to travel freely
But the government stressed that Mr Arafat would still be barred from travelling beyond the city, where he has been blockaded since last December.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Jerusalem says the far right in Ariel Sharon's government is angry over the slight easing of restrictions.

The Palestinians are also furious, saying Mr Arafat should be free to move as he pleases after Palestinian security forces arrested the men believed to have killed Israel's tourism minister last October.

And the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has said the sooner Yasser Arafat was given total freedom of movement, the better.

Speaker's car shot

Tensions on the West Bank rose on Sunday night when Israeli soldiers fired on a car carrying the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Ahmed Korei.

You [Ahmed Korei] are the last person in the region that someone would want to shoot at

Shimon Peres, Israeli foreign minister

Mr Korei was unhurt, but his armoured BMW was hit several times at a military checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

The Israeli army said Mr Korei's car had not been identified by the soldiers and that it had approached the checkpoint at "high speed".

"The soldiers were afraid the car was going to hit them and fired warning shots into the air, until the car stopped," a statement said.

Mr Korei's office said his car was hit by eight bullets and that they had notified Israel about the trip from Ramallah to the nearby Abu Dis neighbourhood in east Jerusalem.

The Israeli army expressed regret at the incident and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres telephoned Mr Korei to apologise.

The BBC's James Reynolds reports from Jerusalem
"It is very difficult to see a way forward at the moment"
Palestinian legislator, Hanan Ashrawi
"We are still under a state of siege"
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Gideon Meir
"It should not happen but it happened"
Adam Shapiro, International Checkpoint Watch
"You could see the footprints on their heads"
See also:

25 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israeli president seeks Saudi talks
22 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel withdraws forces from Gaza
22 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israeli press blasts Sharon
21 Feb 02 | Middle East
Sharon speech: More of the same
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Dissent in the ranks
25 Feb 02 | Middle East
Arafat survives Israeli incarceration
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