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 Thursday, 26 December, 2002, 19:31 GMT
Palestinians killed in Mid-East violence
Hamza Abu Roub's funeral in Qabatiya
Israel targeted members of militant Palestinian groups
Israeli troops have shot dead at least seven Palestinians in a number of operations across the West Bank.

Five of those killed were suspected Palestinian militants, while two civilians were reported to be among the victims.

Five Israeli soldiers were wounded in the action, the army said.

The operations came as Israel said it was setting up special security zones around Jewish settlements to stop infiltrations by Palestinian attackers.

The army also said it had detained a dozen Palestinians in raids in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including a Palestinian intelligence officer in Bethlehem.

In Bethlehem, troops returned to the centre of the town and reimposed a curfew suspended two days ago when forces withdrew to the outskirts to enable Christmas prayer services to go ahead.

Israel took over Bethlehem and other Palestinian-ruled population centres over the past year following a spate of attacks by Palestinian militants.

Bloodshed

In the West Bank village of Qabatiya, troops killed Hamza Abu Roub, the local leader of the Islamic Jihad group, after he opened fire on soldiers trying to detain him, the army said.

Hamas militant
Militant groups have carried out many anti-Israel attacks

Four Israeli soldiers were wounded in the gun battle, one seriously, an army spokesman said.

Troops then blew up Mr Abu Roub's home.

Another leading militant, Jamal Nader, of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, was shot dead by undercover troops in the city of Tulkarm, Palestinian sources said.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Bassem al-Ashqar, who belonged to the radical Hamas movement, and was killed in a firefight with troops trying to detain him, military officials said.

A Palestinian armed guard also died in the exchange. Then residents threw rocks at the soldiers, who opened fire and killed a bystander, according to Palestinian sources.

In Nablus, soldiers searching for wanted men killed a Palestinian gunman, the army said, while Palestinian sources said a second unarmed Palestinian was killed there in clashes with troops.

Israel said it also detained nine Palestinians in raids in the West Bank, and three Palestinians in Gaza.

A Palestinian intelligence officer in Bethlehem, Metri Freij, the nephew of mayor Elias Freij, was among those detained, Palestinian sources said.

Buffer zones

The Israeli Government, meanwhile, said it was setting up special security zones around Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Israeli security fence
Israel is trying to reinforce Jewish settlements
It said the army would patrol buffer zones some several hundred metres beyond the settlement perimeters to stop attacks by Palestinian militants.

"It's just to ensure that you have a forward defence deployment so you don't engage the terrorists inside the compound," said government spokesman Ranaan Gissin.

Under new rules of engagement, soldiers will able to immediately shoot at infiltrators instead of firing a warning shot in the air first.

Palestinians denounced the move, saying it was aimed at thwarting Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

"Sharon wants to make sure... that it will be impossible to create a Palestinian state because of the settlements," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

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"The army are not saying how long they are going to stay in"

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26 Dec 02 | Middle East
23 Dec 02 | Middle East
16 Nov 02 | profiles
26 Sep 02 | Middle East
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