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Palestinian Authority Sentences Militants; Israel Calls For Handover - 2002-04-25

A Palestinian military court has sentenced four militants to jail for the killing of an Israeli cabinet minister. Israel immediately dismissed the decision, calling again for the men to be handed over.

The Palestinian Authority said in a statement that a court convening in Chairman Yasser Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah handed out jail terms ranging from one year to 18 years with hard labor.

The four Palestinians were sentenced in connection with the assassination last October of Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi in a Jerusalem hotel.

Mr. Arafat approved the sentences.

The radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) claimed responsibility for the assassination, saying it was in response to the targeted killing of its leader, Abu Ali Mustafa, by the Israeli military.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dismissed Thursday's sentencing, repeating his demand that the Palestinians responsible for Mr. Zeevi's death must be extradited to Israel.

Mr. Sharon said he is also insisting that a Palestinian official suspected of involvement in an attempt to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip must be turned over to the Jewish state.

Israel said their extradition is a condition for lifting the military siege on Mr. Arafat's headquarters.

The Palestinian leader has been confined to Ramallah since last December.

Also Thursday, Israeli troops and tanks carried out a brief incursion near the West Bank city of Hebron, killing at least one Palestinian.

In the Gaza Strip the army said soldiers shot and killed four Palestinians trying to infiltrate a Jewish settlement there.

In Bethlehem, Israeli and Palestinian officials are continuing to try to resolve a standoff at the Church of the Nativity, built over the site where Christian tradition said Jesus was born.