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Jewish Settlers, Palestinians Clash in West Bank - 2002-10-21

Clashes have broken out between Jewish settlers and Palestinians in at least two areas of the West Bank. And Israel has postponed a planned pull-back from the West Bank city of Hebron.

The Jewish settlers clashed with Palestinians in olive groves near the West Bank town of Nablus.

The confrontation began after Palestinians set fire to a field near a Jewish settlement in the area. Before the clash, Palestinians accused the settlers of stealing the olive harvest of a Palestinian farmer.

The settlers reportedly burned three Palestinian vehicles before Israeli police arrived on the scene and arrested four settlers.

Clashes also broke out between Palestinians and Jewish settlers near Ramallah, also in the West Bank. The Palestinians accused the settlers of setting fire to three Palestinian vehicles.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops postponed plans to begin a partial pull-out from Hebron. Israeli army officials now say the troop withdrawal will take place later in the week at the earliest.

The postponement follows reports that the Israeli security establishment has received many warnings of plans by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to carry out more attacks, in the form of car bombings and suicide bombings.

The delay is certain to anger the Palestinian Authority, which is preparing to accept security responsibility in those parts of Hebron that the Israeli army evacuates.

Under the Israeli plan, the army would remain in two Palestinian neighborhoods that overlook Jewish enclaves in Hebron.

The Israeli army says it soldiers are to stay there to prevent Palestinian gunmen firing at Jewish settlers, as they have done in the past.

Most of Hebron was handed over to Palestinian self-rule under a 1997 interim peace agreement. Israeli troops were allowed to remain in certain areas to protect about 400 Jewish settlers who live in the center of the city.

Israeli troops seized control of the Palestinian areas of Hebron and most other West Bank cities in June following a campaign of suicide bombings.