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US Concerned Israel's Troops Movements Could Harm Children - 2001-08-28


The United States is calling on Israel to withdraw its forces from the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, saying Tuesday's occupation of much of the town near Jerusalem will only make the situation in the region worse.

Israel says it moved its troops into Beit Jala to stop renewed Palestinian sniper fire into the neighboring Jewish settlement of Gilo.

And in reacting to the development, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority needs to end such firing if it is serious about ending the current crisis and returning to peace talks.

However, he made clear the U.S. view that the Israeli move into Beit Jala, a West Bank town long under Palestinian control, can only exacerbate the situation.

"The Israelis need to understand that incursions like this will not solve the security problems," he said. "They only make matters worse. As a consequence, we believe the Israelis should withdraw their forces from this area."

Mr. Boucher also said the United States is "troubled" that Israel had posted troops next to a church-run orphanage in Beit Jala, and urged both sides to avoid actions that would jeopardize the safety of the children housed there.

The spokesman, meanwhile, said the United States and Syria have been in diplomatic contact over a threat by a Syrian-based Palestinian group to attack U.S. interests after Israel killed the faction's leader in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Monday.

An official of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian in Damascus, or PFLP, said the group held the United States responsible for the killing of Mustafa al-Zibri because Israel used U.S.-supplied weapons in the helicopter strike.

Mr. Boucher said the United States takes the PFLP threat seriously and is looking to Syrian authorities to act accordingly.

"We're calling on the Syrian government to exercise restraint over groups that it allows on Syrian territory," he said. "We are raising the spokesman's remarks with the Syrian government, noting that we hold the Syrian government responsible for the safety and security of Americans in Syria."

On the Ramallah attack, spokesman Boucher reiterated U.S. opposition to Israel's "targeted killing" of Palestinian militants, and the use of heavy weapons in urban areas.

But under questioning, he said the administration is not accusing Israel of violating the 1976 Arms Export Control Act of Congress, a law under which U.S. supplied weapons are to be used only for what is termed "legitimate self-defense."