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Israel Withdraws From Qalqilya - 2002-04-26

The Israeli military says its forces have withdrawn from the Palestinian town of Qalqilya. A local militant leader had been killed by Israeli forces Friday after they entered the West Bank town.

During a military raid in the West Bank town of Qalqilya, Israeli troops killed Raed Nazal, the local leader of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,PFLP.

Dozens of Palestinians were arrested during the raid on Qalqilya, and in Palestinian villages in the surrounding area. Israeli soldiers launched house-to-house searches and declared curfews.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the military had "no choice but to launch these incursions" to prevent terrorist attacks.

The latest raids are part of the follow-up to Israel's three-week military offensive against most Palestinian population centers after a series of suicide attacks killed dozens of Israelis.

Israel has withdrawn from most cities after strong international criticism of the incursions.

In the new phase, Israel says it will send troops into Palestinian areas when it has information that suspected militants are operating there.

In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Israeli snipers wounded two Palestinians hiding in the Church of the Nativity who were then captured and evacuated for medical treatment.

Four other Palestinian men surrendered to Israeli troops.

About 200 people in the church, including Palestinian gunmen, have been surrounded by Israeli troops and tanks for more than three weeks.

On Friday, Israel released eight Palestinian teenagers who left the church the day before. One teenager was held for further questioning about possible anti-Israeli activities.

Conditions inside the church are said to be difficult, with no food, electricity or running water.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades at hundreds of activists protesting the military siege around Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters.

In the southern Gaza Strip, Palestinians say a woman was shot and killed by Israeli forces near the border with Egypt.

The Israeli army says Palestinians there attacked soldiers with gunfire, grenades and a mortal shell.