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Prison Siege in Jericho Ends


Israeli military authorities say a siege at a prison in the West Bank city of Jericho has ended with the surrender of a leading Palestinian militant. The prison siege led to the kidnapping of at least seven westerners in the Palestinian territories, most of whom have now been released.

After a day-long siege by Israeli troops using tanks, helicopters and bulldozers, Ahmed Saadat the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or the PFLP, surrendered to Israeli military authorities.

Saadat and a number of other Palestinian militants were being held at the prison under the supervision of British and U.S. monitors. Those linked to Saadat were detained after the PFLP claimed responsibility for the assassination of Rehavan Zeevi, Israel's tourism minister, in 2001.

Israeli General Guy Tzur says the military operation was to prevent the release of Saadat, and other militants, who he says will now be put on trial in Israel for the killing of the Israeli minister.

"This was our obligation and that was the reason we prepared our forces around the city in order to prevent this release.," said General Tzur.

Israeli troops moved into Jericho early Tuesday after British and U.S. monitors who have been responsible for monitoring the prisoners under an international agreement vacated the facility, citing security concerns.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cut short a trip to Europe to return to the Palestinian territories to deal with the crisis. Mr. Abbas said the withdrawal of the international monitors led to the Israeli action.

However British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw speaking in Parliament on Tuesday rejected the criticism, saying Palestinian authorities had received advance notice of the withdrawal, and it was Palestinian authorities who had failed to fulfill their obligations to provide adequate security at the facility.

Incoming Hamas prime minister designate, Ismail Haniyeh, also criticized the Israeli action, saying it was undertaken as a get-tough election strategy by Israel's acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Haniyeh says Palestinian blood is being shed to help Israeli politicians win elections, and he warned Israeli officials they will suffer consequences if Ahmed Saadat is harmed.

As news of the prison siege spread violence erupted across the Palestinian territories. Protesters in Gaza set fire to a building housing the offices of the British Council. A vehicle evacuating westerners from the Gaza Strip was fired on but no injuries were reported. There were also a number of reported abductions of westerners in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but most were reported released after a few hours.