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Sharon: 'Now Is the Time to Expand Jewish Control Over Hebron' - 2002-11-17

Israel is planning to strengthen the Jewish settlements in the divided West Bank city of Hebron, following Friday's massacre there of 12 Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told army commanders that now is the time to expand Jewish territorial control over Hebron.

He called for the move during a tour of the city after Palestinian gunmen killed three settlers and nine members of the Israeli security forces there on Friday.

The soldiers were ambushed as they escorted worshipers from the adjacent Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the center of Hebron. The shrine is revered by both Muslims and Jews as the burial place of Abraham and Sarah.

Mr. Sharon said that in light of the attack the army must now ensure "territorial continuity" between Kiryat Arba and Jewish enclaves in Hebron.

Jewish settler leaders have called for the government to "clean up the area," as they put it. The mayor of Kiryat Arba, Zvi Katsover, said the government should destroy the hundreds of Palestinian homes along a road connecting Hebron and his settlement.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has ordered troops to destroy any homes on the route where the Palestinian occupants are found to have links with acts of terror.

Late Saturday, the army demolished three homes in Hebron from which it said Palestinian snipers fired at soldiers.

Hebron is home to 450 Jewish settlers who live in the center of the city, surrounded by 120,000 Palestinian residents.

Under a 1997 interim peace agreement, most of Hebron was transferred to Palestinian self-rule, but Israeli soldiers were allowed to remain in some parts to protect the Jewish inhabitants.