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Israel Raids West Bank Town - 2001-08-28


The Israeli military has raided the Palestinian-controlled town of Beit Jala in an effort to prevent gunfire on the nearby Jewish community of Gilo. Palestinians say the move shows Israel plans to reoccupy parts of the West Bank.

Israeli tanks and troops launched an incursion into the West Bank town of Beit Jala and seized positions used by gunmen to fire on the adjacent community of Gilo. The raid followed a lengthy gun battle in which one Palestinian policeman was killed.

A statement from the Palestinian leadership says the operation shows the Israeli government is escalating its "policy of terror, assassinations and reoccupation of parts of the Palestinian homeland."

The Jewish community of Gilo, which is next to Jerusalem, was built on disputed land captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war. Beit Jala is a mostly Christian town next to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.

Lutheran church officials say a church-run orphanage with dozens of children inside and a hostel under construction next door were among the buildings entered by Israeli troops. Church officials denounced the Israeli action saying it is unacceptable to seize church property and frighten orphans.

The Israeli army says its take over of Beit Jala will be for a limited period of time and is designed to protect "civilians, foreign residents and holy sites."

Israeli government spokesman Dore Gold says the military will stay in the Palestinian-ruled town until the shooting stops. "In order to protect both Beit Jala and to protect Jerusalem," he said, "it is necessary to make sure that gunmen do not return there to shoot at Israelis. If they leave Beit Jala and Beit Jala comes back under the control of its largely Christian population, it can indeed be a place of peace and quiet. But under present circumstances, where it is being used as a launching pad for firing at Israel, these holy sites that are not far away are in danger."

In the Gaza Strip, the army sent tanks and bulldozers into the Rafah refugee camp demolishing buildings Israel says were being used by Palestinian gunmen. In other violence, a Palestinian policeman was killed during a gunfight with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank town of Hebron.

In Ramallah, thousands of mourners cried for revenge at the funeral of Mustafa al-Zibri, better known as Abu Ali Mustafa. Mr. Mustafa, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was killed Monday when Israeli combat helicopters fired missiles at his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Israel says Mr. Mustafa's organization was responsible for a series of car bombings against Israeli targets.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has declared three days of mourning for the PFLP leader, who is the highest ranking Palestinian official targeted by Israel since the current conflict began 11 months ago.

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