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Israeli Tanks Enter Bethlehem, Violence Flares - 2001-10-19


Israeli tanks and soldiers have entered the West Bank town of Bethlehem, and at least six Palestinians were killed Friday, as the violence continues to escalate.

Israeli tanks, armored vehicles and soldiers moved into Palestinian-ruled areas of Bethlehem and the adjacent neighborhood of Beit Jala.

Palestinian health officials say Israeli troops shot and killed a man in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem and a woman in the nearby village of Al-Khader.

Israeli military sources confirm an exchange of gunfire in both areas.

Palestinians say another man was killed in Beit Jala.

Israeli forces took control of buildings and hilltops in an effort to stop Palestinians in Beit Jala from firing on the Jewish community of Gilo, which was built on disputed land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

The firing on Gilo late Thursday followed an explosion in Bethlehem that killed a Palestinian militia leader and two other activists. Palestinians blamed the deaths on Israel, while the Israeli government suggested the men may have been preparing a bomb that exploded prematurely.

Thousands of people, some firing machine guns in the air, took part in the funeral for the men Friday, which began at Manger Square, next to the church marking the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, a Palestinian security officer was killed by Israeli troops.

In the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian man was killed during stone-throwing clashes with Israeli soldiers. Also in Gaza, a Palestinian boy was killed when a tank shell he was playing with exploded.

Israel is continuing to demand that the Palestinians extradite those responsible for assassinating Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi earlier this week.

Israeli government spokesman Dore Gold says, if the Palestinians continue to reject that demand, the implications are clear.

"We would regard the Palestinian Authority as an entity that supports terrorism. Now, there are legal and, I suppose as well, security implications of that new designation," Mr. Gold said. " But the state of Israel will not tolerate repeated attacks against its civilians and the assassination of a democratically elected member of its government."

The Palestinian Authority has detained a number of members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the radical group that claimed responsibility for Mr. Zeevi's assassination.

It is not clear whether those in custody have direct links to the killing of the Israeli Cabinet minister.