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Hanna: Beit Rima clashes

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel Defense Forces destroyed three homes in the West Bank town of Beit Rima in retaliation for the death of the country's tourism minister last week, an Israeli military spokesman told CNN Thursday.

The forces swept into the village near Ramallah on Wednesday, killing a number of Palestinians during a gun battle, including members of three militant groups; they arrested others.

Mike Hanna, CNN's Jerusalem Bureau Chief, filed this report on the developments.

HANNA: Controversy continues to surround the latest Israeli operation or incursion into Palestinian-controlled territory, into a little village in the West Bank, a village called Beit Rima. Throughout yesterday the village was completely cordoned off by Israeli security forces. There was intense fighting reported from inside the village.

There are disputed accounts of exactly what happened. The Israeli Defense Force says that five Palestinians were killed during the operation. It says that all of these killed were known militants. The Palestinian medical sources, however, say that five bodies have been returned to them by the Israeli forces, but all of these five were police officers who were stationed in the village.

The Israeli forces have since moved out of Beit Rima.

Israel says it was hunting after the killers of an Israeli government minister who was assassinated last week.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, there has been ongoing violence in the city of Bethlehem, in particular. Throughout Wednesday, there was ongoing conflict, exchanges of fire. Palestinian gunmen fired at the Israeli tanks that had ensconced themselves in the city over the past week.

In the course of this morning, there was another casualty. A Palestinian was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier in Bethlehem.

And tanks remained ensconced in several other West Bank towns, cities and villages. The Palestinian Authority has called for the immediate withdrawal.

So, too, has the United States in a State Department statement yesterday. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that it would be good if the troops withdrew "immediately." He used the word "immediately." Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been using the phrase "as soon as possible," saying that Israeli troops will stay where they are until "their mission," as he puts it, "is completed."

So, from the Israeli government, we see what amounts to defiance of U.S. demands for a withdrawal from the Palestinian areas that have been occupied over the past week. But the Israeli cabinet is meeting Thursday to decide its timetable for withdrawal, if indeed it does decide to withdraw from these autonomous Palestinian territories.


• Israel: Army out of West Bank town
October 25, 2001

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