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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 23:01 GMT
Two observers killed in West Bank
Israeli soldiers examine observers' car
TIPH believes its observers were caught in crossfire
Two European observers have been shot and killed by gunfire in the West Bank.

One of the dead was Turkish and the other believed to be Swiss.

Another observer was slightly injured in the incident on a road used mainly by Jewish settlers near Halhoul, just north of Hebron.

Israeli radio said the unarmed observers, from the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), died when their car came under fire on a road north of the flashpoint town from Palestinian gunmen who mistook them for settlers.

But a senior member of the observer force told the BBC they were travelling in a clearly marked vehicle and that it appeared they had been caught in crossfire.

The Palestinian leadership, however, said in a statement that the Israeli army had opened fire on the car.

"The Israeli army bears full responsibility for this crime," it said.

Exchanges of gunfire are reported to be occuring between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen in the area.

Hebron agreement

The TIPH was set up under a 1997 agreement dividing Hebron into Palestinian and Israeli-controlled zones, in the wake of an attack by an Israeli settler on a holy site in 1994 which killed 29 Palestinians.

The body consists of several dozen observers from Norway, Italy, Denmark, Turkey, Sweden and Switzerland.

The two were the first foreign observers to be killed since the latest Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.

The shooting came as the American envoy to the Middle East, Anthony Zinni, pushed on with his mission to achieve a ceasefire on the eve of the Arab summit in Beirut.

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The BBC's Caroline Hawley reports from Jerusalem
"According to the Israeli army, they were on a road usually used by Jewish settlers"
See also:

03 Dec 01 | issues
The hostility of Hebron
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