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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 16:19 GMT
Abbas denounces Israeli jail raid
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the damaged prison in Jericho
Mahmoud Abbas said Israel's raid on the Jericho jail was illegal
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has angrily denounced Israel's seizure of a leading militant from a West Bank jail.

Visiting the jail after cutting short a trip to Europe, Mr Abbas said Tuesday's raid was "an unforgivable crime" and an insult to the Palestinian people.

Palestinians across Gaza and the West Bank have gone on strike over Israel's seizure of militant Ahmed Saadat.

Security forces are on high alert in case of further anti-Western violence and kidnappings as happened on Tuesday.

The raid in the West Bank town of Jericho began when UK and US monitors left the Palestinian-run prison complaining about lax security.

Jericho locator
What happened in Jericho was an unforgivable crime and an insult to the Palestinian people
Mahmoud Abbas

Speaking outside the damaged prison, Mr Abbas condemned the Israeli operation as a blow to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

"What happened in Jericho was an unforgivable crime and an insult to the Palestinian people," he said.

He described the arrest of Mr Saadat as illegal - and said it had only been carried out to boost the Israeli government's chances in the coming elections.

Mr Abbas acknowledged that the UK and US had informed the PA a week ago that they would be withdrawing their monitors, but said no date had been given.

He questioned how the Israeli forces had known so precisely when to start their attack, just minutes after the international monitors were withdrawn.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has strongly denied Palestinian accusations of British and US collusion with the Israeli operation.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the decision to remove the monitors, saying the UK had warned the PA for months about fears for their security.


In Tuesday's raid, Israeli forces used tanks and bulldozers to force their way into the jail and grab Mr Saadat, leader of the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and other inmates.

Two Palestinians were killed during the raid and a third has since died of his injuries. About two dozen were injured, including guards and prisoners.

Ahmed Saadat waves to crowds during press conference at Jericho jail

Israeli officials said on Wednesday they were interrogating dozens of the prisoners.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert defended the raid, saying the Israeli army's actions had been unavoidable once the international monitors had pulled out.

He said six of those detained, including Mr Saadat and other militants from his PLFP, would stand trial in Israel for the killing of the extreme right-wing Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001.

"They will be indicted according to Israeli law and they will be punished as they deserve," he told the Associated Press news agency.

The military said the operation was necessary because several militants had been about to be freed by the Palestinian authorities.

Meanwhile, the presidency of the European Union said it was "gravely concerned" by the raid and urged both the Palestinians and Israel to exercise restraint to prevent escalation of the unrest.

The Israeli raid sparked anti-Western violence in which the British Council cultural centre in Gaza City was set ablaze and 11 foreigners kidnapped - all of whom have now been released.

Palestinians demonstrate against the Israeli action

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