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FRI JUL 13 2001 11:07 A.M. G.M.T.
Israeli army raids Palestinian territory, one dead in new shooting by Samih Shahine
HEBRON, West Bank, July 13 (AFP) - The Israeli army stormed into Palestinian territory in a pre-dawn raid on Friday, pounding the West Bank city of Hebron with tank fire after one Jewish settler was killed and five wounded.
Troops in the Gaza Strip later shot dead a Palestinian they said was about to hurl a grenade at a passing patrol, as 10 months of violence showed every sign of worsening between the two sides.
The dramatic escalation of the conflict followed a declaration in Rome by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who vowed Israel would now retaliate tit-for-tat for every Palestinian attack and that negotiations are finished until the violence stops.
An electricity cut put out the night-lights in divided Hebron as Israeli troops, backed by tanks and armored vehicles, poured into Palestinian areas of this flashpoint West Bank town and pounded buildings with tank and machine-gun fire.
A Palestinian checkpoint was destroyed along with an outpost of Force 17, the elite guard of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who the Israelis say has failed to halt attacks on them despite a month-old ceasefire.
Three Force 17 troops and at least 14 Palestinian civilians were wounded as Israel unleashed the heaviest firing in Hebron since the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, began in late September.
"These measures take the form of short sharp operations," an Israeli military source said. "The Israeli operation is a measure of self-defence in the face of a growing terrorist threat."
Israeli radio reported the troops withdrew to Israeli-controlled territory immediately after the lightning attack on Hebron, a city holy to both Muslims and Jews where around 400 settlers live amid 120,000 Palestinians.
As in the roughly 150 other settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, the presence of the Israeli settlers is heavily defended by Israeli troops and is considered by the Palestinians -- and the international community -- as illegal.
The Palestinians have frequently defended their attacks on the settlers, who live on land occupied by Israel since 1967, as a legitimate attempt to re-take their territory.
An Israeli army spokesman said a Palestinian was about to throw a grenade at Israeli soldiers near a settlement in the north of the Gaza Strip (eds: correct) when he was shot dead by Israeli troops.
A woman who was with the man escaped from the site, where troops found an explosive device by the side of the road, the spokesman said.
Friday's battles followed the slaying by Palestinian gunmen of 49-year-old Yehezkiel Mwalem, a member of the local council of the Kiryat Arba settlement close to Hebron, in an attack that left two other settlers wounded.
Around 1,000 people turned out for his funeral Friday.
His killing late Thursday capped a day of mayhem and bloodshed, including the point-blank shooting of a settler couple and their baby near the West Bank city of Nablus which left the man in serious condition and the mother and child lightly wounded.
The shooting triggered heavy Israeli shelling of Nablus which killed a 22-year-old Palestinian policeman Thursday, and raids across the West Bank by angry settlers who beat up Palestinians, pelted cars with stones and set fire to Palestinian orchards.
Three Palestinians were wounded after Israeli troops opened fire in the clashes.
In an apparent bid to stem the violence, Sharon sent his son Omri to meet with Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Haaretz newspaper said. The report could not be confirmed by either Israeli or Palestinian officials.
The report cited a senior Israeli official but gave no details on the talks.
An Israeli court had earlier ruled that Omri Sharon, who has no official role in the government, could only meet the Palestinian leadership in emergency situations and with the approval of the government's legal counsel.
Sharon, who is in Italy on quick visit to try to shore up European support for his tough stance on the Palestinians, told a press conference late Thursday that the Jewish state would now respond to every Palestinian attack.
"The government's policy from now on is to respond on the ground," he said. The Palestinians must understand that they will "pay the price for their attacks."
He reiterated Friday that Israel would not negotiate with Arafat until there is a complete end to the violence, adding: I do not believe there is a risk of war."
Israel accuses Arafat of failing to uphold the US-brokered truce, which was intended as the first step of an internationally backed peace plan aimed at eventually getting the two sides back to the negotiating table.
The Palestinians say Israeli attacks on suspected activists, a choking blockade around their territory, the destruction of Palestinian homes and continued building in the settlements are the real violations of the ceasefire accord.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher accused Sharon on Friday of leading the Middle East into a "vicious circle" of violence, and warned the world's patience with him was growing thin.
"Israel's actions practically negate any desire to reach peace," he said in Cairo.
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