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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 13:40 GMT
Q&A: Israel's Jericho jail raid
Palestinian surrender to Israeli forces
About 200 prisoners and guards were seized by Israeli forces
The Israeli raid on a Palestinian prison in Jericho that left three Palestinians dead and the ensuing unrest across the West Bank and Gaza Strip brings a dangerous new tension to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The BBC News website's Martin Asser explains some of the major issues.

Why did Israeli troops raid the Jericho jail?

The prison compound in Jericho held six high-profile inmates, five of whom are accused by Israel of assassinating an extreme right-wing Israeli minister in 2001.

They were held by the Palestinian Authority under the supervision of a small number of British and American monitors.

The monitoring arrangement dates back to a deal brokered by the UK and US which ended an Israeli siege of Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound in 2002.

A letter dated 8 March 2006 from British and American diplomats in Jerusalem warned the Palestinian Authority that the monitors were about to be withdrawn unless certain security conditions in the jail were improved.

They cited non-compliance with the Ramallah agreement over "monitoring arrangements regarding visitors, cell searches, telephones access and correspondence".

On 14 March the monitors made good their threat to withdraw. Israeli troops immediately entered Palestinian-run Jericho and attacked the jail, forcing the surrender of everyone inside.

Who were the main targets of the Israeli raid?

The most senior prisoner is Ahmed Saadat, political leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine since the assassination by Israel of his predecessor Abu Ali Mustafa a year after the outbreak of the intifada.

Israel accuses Mr Saadat of planning the revenge killing of hardline Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. The Palestinian judiciary has cleared him of involvement, but he was kept in custody because of threats from Israel to assassinate him if he was released.

Four others were PFLP members who were convicted by a Palestinian military "field court" of the Zeevi killing: Hamdi Qaraeen who shot the fatal bullet, and Basel al-Asmar, the look-out, who were jailed for 18 and 12 years respectively.

Their getaway driver Majdi Rimawi was sentenced to eight years. Iyad Gholmi - said to be the head of the PFLP's armed wing - was sentenced to one year in jail for his knowledge of the plot.

Fuad Shobaki - formerly a brigadier-general in the Palestinian armed forces and close aide to Yasser Arafat - was detained for alleged involvement with a shipment of smuggled weapons seized by Israel in January 2002.

Was there 'collusion' between Britain and the US and the Israelis?

The speed with which Israeli forces moved in after the monitors left has led many to believe the US and UK did a secret deal - or may even have been given an Israeli ultimatum to leave.

Palestinian Authority officials slammed the US and UK for violating their agreement, colluding with Israel and failing to protect the prisoners.

"I'm giving the facts. They [the monitors] left at 0920 and the Israelis came in at 0930. How can we explain that?" said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on a visit to the jail.

Burning car at Gaza office of the British Council
Hostages were taken and Western-owned property was attacked
The US and UK deny any conspiracy and the Israeli army says its troops were forced to act quickly, because the withdrawal of foreign monitors spelt the end of the Ramallah deal.

It could be that the monitors feared being caught in the coming weeks between Israel and a government led by Palestinian militant group Hamas - which said it would free the prisoners.

The UK and US letters did say "the pending handover of government power to [Hamas] call into question the political sustainability of the monitoring mission".

What are the implications of the anti-Western backlash?

Foreigners mostly live harmoniously among the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Many of them feel sympathy for the Palestinian cause and experience the daily hardships of the Israeli occupation along with the general population.

However, the perception that Britain and the US had colluded with Israel to pull out their monitors and precipitate the raid has caused a wave of anger that spilled over into revenge attacks against property and several short-lived kidnappings of foreigners.

This is a serious new development, because in most previous abductions - which have always ended quickly and peacefully - the hostages have been used as bargaining chips for unrelated internal issues.

As Tuesday's developments show, the Palestinian Authority is hopelessly ill-equipped to defend either its territory from the Israel army or its civilians from gun law imposed by militant groups.

Many of the foreigners therefore left the Palestinian territories, in convoys guarded by Palestinian police.

What is the likely political fallout from the raid?

Israel says it is determined to put the PFLP five on trial, although there are questions over whether this will be legally possible.

The raid comes two weeks before Israeli elections, and some critics have seen it as an effort to boost the campaign of acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to make him seem a decisive military leader.

Foreign donors may cut aid to the Palestinians if the anti-Western unrest does not subside.

Mr Abbas had to abandon a key speech to the European parliament in which he would have made the case for continued funding.

The Palestinian leader - already damaged by the sweeping victory of Hamas in January elections - is left looking even more weak and isolated than before.

The PFLP and other Palestinian militant groups have warned Israel not to harm the prisoners and vowed to avenge the raid.




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