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Palestinian activist shot, killed

Imad
Imad Abu Sneneh  


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian officials accused Israel of assassinating a militia leader in the West Bank on Wednesday, while Israel said its forces stopped short of entering the village of Beit Jala after hearing that Palestinian gunmen would stop firing at a nearby Jewish enclave.

However, Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said if the firing resumed at Gilo, regarded by Israel as a Jerusalem suburb but by the Palestinians as occupied territory, Israel would "feel free to exercise its right for self-defense."

Earlier, a 25-year-old member of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement was shot to death near Hebron.

Palestinian officials said that Imad Abu Sneneh was a leader of the Tanzim militia. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had no comment on the shooting, but Israel Radio reported the attack was carried out by an Israeli undercover team.

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Abu Sneneh was found with bullet wounds to the head and chest in an area under full Israeli security.

Israel Radio quoted witnesses as saying a car with Palestinian plates pulled up in front of Abu Sneneh's house and members of an Israeli undercover force shot him multiple times.

Palestinian Cabinet member Saeb Erakat condemned the killing and repeated his call for international intervention.

"This assassination is a state terror that we condemn and ask the international community to provide international protection for the Palestinian people," he said.

Israel Radio also reported that police in northern Israel had broken up a terrorist cell involving Islamic Jihad members. Police said the cell was planning an attack in the Haifa area. There was no immediate comment from Israeli or Palestinian officials.

Peres hears from Palestinians

On Tuesday, Israeli troops and tanks massed around Beit Jala and several other villages in the Bethlehem area after the IDF said Palestinian gunmen were firing at Gilo.

The Jerusalem newspaper Mariv quoted Sharon telling U.S. Envoy David Satterfield Israel would no longer tolerate firing on Gilo.

But Israeli troops did not enter the village, instead pulling back to areas nearby.

Gissin said the decision to pull back came after Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres got word from Palestinian sources the firing at Gilo would stop.

"Last night Peres had contacts with the Palestinians. As a result of those political contacts, we got new information indicating that the Palestinians will stop the fire out of Beit Jala. As a result of that a decision was made to temporarily suspend the military activity which was intended to bring about the (cessation) of hostilities. If the fire will resume, Israel will feel free to exercise it's right for self defense," he said.

In addition to Beit Jala, Israeli troops had massed near the villages Asakara, Harmala, Beit Taamar, Al-Aruj and Fourdais, in what is called an Area B -- an area under Israeli security control, although Palestinians have civil control.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eleizer denied in an interview with Israel Radio that he was pressured by either the United States or Peres to pull troops back from Beit Jala.

However, a European Union envoy told CNN he was successful in persuading the Palestinians to stop the gunfire and the Israelis to back down.

Strong Israeli response to attacks

U.S. President George Bush renewed his call Wednesday for Arafat to crack down on violence and urged Israel to show restraint as well.

“I’m confident the leadership there will understand that war is avoidable and will work to bring peace,” Bush said. “The parties must – must – make up their mind that peace is preferable to war.” Israel responded on Tuesday to a deadly suicide bomb attack by sending tanks and bulldozers into the West Bank town of Jenin, which Israeli army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz called a "city of bombers."

Israel contends that recent suicide bombing -- including one on Thursday at a Jerusalem pizzeria that killed the bomber and 15 other people -- come from the Jenin area, and that the Palestinian leadership could stop the attacks but does not.

With helicopter support flying overhead, the Israelis flattened a Palestinian police station during the three-and-a-half hour incursion into Jenin.

After the incursion, Palestinian officials called on the United Nations to convene an immediate Security Council session to provide protection for the Palestinians.

When no session was called, Erakat accused the international community of giving Sharon the green light to go ahead with a military campaign.

"The lack of reaction of the international community to Sharon's military campaign in Jenin, Bethlehem and Gaza is seen by Sharon as a green light to continue his military campaign and aggression," said Erakat.






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