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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 March 2006, 16:59 GMT
West Bank jail raid sparks chaos
Israeli forces and captured Palestinian prisoners
Israeli forces rounded up Palestinian prisoners and guards
An Israeli army raid on a Palestinian jail holding a senior militant has sparked a wave of kidnappings and protest in the West Bank and Gaza.

The raid, in the West bank town of Jericho, began shortly after UK and US monitors left the jail complaining about lax security arrangements.

The Palestinian militant leader, Ahmed Saadat, and a number of comrades have refused to surrender to Israeli forces.

At least seven Western workers have been seized by Palestinian gunmen.

Mr Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is blamed by Israel for killing a cabinet minister in 2001.

The occupation [Israeli forces] are planning a massacre in the Jericho complex
Ahmed Saadat

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has condemned Britain and the US for pulling out the monitors and said they were responsible for the prisoners' safety.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he had repeatedly raised concerns about the security of the Western monitors in the jail and given a final warning about their withdrawal on 8 March.

An Israeli foreign ministry official said the army raid was necessary after Mr Abbas said Mr Saadat and other militants were about to be freed.

Dozens arrested

Throughout the day, an Israeli bulldozer could be seen demolishing walls outside the prison where a number of Palestinian guards and prisoners including Mr Saadat are still holed up.

An Israeli army spokesman said 182 people had been taken from the prison and were being questioned, including 26 wounded.

It is not known how many of those were prisoners or guards, or how many people are left in the compound. Reports range from between 30 to 80 people.

In the wave of Palestinian unrest that followed the Israeli raid in Jericho:

  • The director of International Red Cross in Gaza was kidnapped by gunmen

  • Two French citizens and a Korean were seized from a hotel in Gaza City by gunmen, one of whom was shot dead by security forces

  • A British Council cultural centre in Gaza was set ablaze and an EU compound stormed

  • The border crossing between Gaza and Egypt shut for the day after European monitors withdrew because of security threats

  • An American teacher at the Arab American University in Jenin, in the northern West Bank, was held briefly by militants

  • Two Australian teachers were held by militants in northern Gaza for two hours before being released

  • Palestinian militants from the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in Gaza City warned US and UK nationals to leave the Palestinian territories immediately

  • Hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank demonstrated against the Israeli raid and what they see as the complicity of western governments.

Jericho locator

Mr Saadat remained defiant, saying in telephone interviews to the media that he would rather die than surrender to Israeli forces.

"The occupation [Israeli forces] are planning a massacre in the Jericho complex. There is shelling from all angles and destroying the prison from all sides," he told the BBC Arabic Service.

He said two of his colleagues had been killed, although this cannot be confirmed independently.

'Grave violation'

BBC correspondent David Chazan says the raid has sparked a major diplomatic crisis between Britain, the US and the Palestinians.

Under a 2002 deal with Israel, Mr Saadat's incarceration was supervised by British and US prison monitors, but they were withdrawn shortly before the raid for what was described as "security reasons".

Mr Abbas, who is president of the Palestinian Authority, called their withdrawal a grave violation of agreements with the Palestinians.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the PA had ignored repeated British requests for guarantees regarding the security of the UK prison guards.

Speaking to parliament, he confirmed that Britain had informed the Israeli authorities about the imminent withdrawal.

The UK Foreign Office warned against travel to the Palestinian territories and urged all British nationals without proper security to leave.

Threat

Reports from the scene said 50 jeeps, three tanks, and an armoured bulldozer pushed into the oasis town in the Jordan valley, as two helicopters hovered overhead.

Ahmed Saadat waves to crowds during press conference at Jericho jail
Conditions at Mr Saadat's jail were unsatisfactory, monitors say

Surrendering guards and prisoners were strip-searched by the Israeli troops outside the compound, where they were filmed by TV crews.

Mr Saadat was arrested in connection with the killing of right-wing Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi by PFLP gunmen in 2001, an attack which itself was to avenge the assassination of Mr Saadat's predecessor by Israel.

Mr Saadat has been in Palestinian custody since early in 2002 - and was moved to Jericho under international supervision in a deal to lift Israel's siege of Yasser Arafat's Muqataa compound in Ramallah in May of that year.

The following month the Palestinian High Court ordered his release, saying there was no evidence to link him to the Zeevi assassination.

Israeli officials said Mr Saadat would be killed if he was freed, and the Palestinian cabinet blocked the release.




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