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3 Palestinians Dead in Car Explosion - 2001-10-18


Three Palestinians, including a local militia leader wanted by Israel, are dead after the car they were riding in exploded in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. At least three other people were killed when Israeli forces launched raids into Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank.

The three Palestinians killed in Bethlehem were members of a band of gunmen linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

The slain militia leader was identified as Atef Abayat, who was wanted by Israel in connection with the killing of a Jewish settler last month.

Palestinians accused Israel of planting the explosives that blew up his car.

The Israeli army had no immediate comment.

Earlier, Israeli tanks and troops entered Palestinian-ruled areas in the West Bank.

Palestinians say a schoolgirl was killed by Israeli fire in Jenin, and two security officers were killed as tanks and bulldozers pushed into the outskirts of Ramallah.

The raids came the day after Palestinian gunmen assassinated Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Zeevi in a Jerusalem hotel.

The radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the shooting.

Israel is demanding the Palestinians extradite those responsible for the assassination, warning that the Palestinian Authority could be viewed as an entity sponsoring and supporting terror.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo says the authority will never accept ultimatums from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"For ultimatums, we will never accept such a way of dealing with us. The ultimatum is sent by the whole world to Sharon to stop the policy of provocation, to stop destroying the cease-fire, to stop the incursions and attacks and occupation of areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority," he said.

The Palestinians did arrest a number of members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, although it was not immediately clear whether those in custody have direct links to the killing of the Israeli Cabinet minister.

Mr. Zeevi was buried with full military honors Thursday in a Jerusalem cemetery.

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