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Palestinian prisoners surrender to Israeli troops

American professor kidnapped, released



West Bank

JERICHO, West Bank (CNN) -- Six Palestinian inmates surrendered Tuesday after holing up for hours against a raid by Israeli troops using tanks and helicopters, the Israel Defense Forces said.

According to Palestinian security sources, four people were killed and 35 wounded in the 10-hour Israeli siege.

Israel had moved in to seize the prisoners after U.S. and British monitors left the compound and Palestinian guards clashed with Israeli forces, leaving a Palestinian policeman dead and several others wounded. (Watch Israeli troops set up positions around a Palestinian prison -- 2:27)

The Israel Defense Forces operation comes a week after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he was prepared to free one of the six, Ahmed Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who allegedly ordered the 2001 killing of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi.

Saadat surrendered after initially saying he was armed and would only be taken by force. The six will be taken to Israeli prisons, IDF officials said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the prisoners would receive fair trials.

"The problem was that you have a Palestinian leadership that said publicly that these people deserved to be let out and be free," Regev said. "And you had a situation where they created circumstances under which the international monitors were forced to leave."

Regev said Israel did not know in advance that the monitors would leave Tuesday.

"We had information to the effect that the whole [international monitoring] agreement was falling apart," Regev said. "The reason that we acted today the way we did was precisely not to allow these prisoners to be released and to scatter around the territories forcing us to do a much more comprehensive larger military operation to arrest them all."

A spate of reported kidnappings followed the Israeli prison operation, including an American professor who was abducted by Palestinian militants and then freed Tuesday night, Palestinian security sources said.

The professor, Douglas Johnson, who teaches at the Arab-American University near the West Bank city of Jenin, said he remains sympathetic to the Palestinian people. "It won't change my commitment. I understand what they did. I understand their frustration. They could have easily killed me," Johnson said.

Palestinian security sources also reported two French women who work for the aid group Medicin du Monde were abducted at Beit Hanoun in Gaza, and two other foreigners were taken from a hotel in Gaza City. A Red Cross worker was kidnapped in southern Gaza, the Red Cross said.

The six holed up Palestinian inmates had been transferred to the prison as part of an international agreement that ended a 2002 Israeli siege on the compound of the late Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.

Israeli authorities said five of the six -- including Saadat -- are Palestinian militants involved in Ze'evi's assassination.

The sixth holed up inmate, Fouad Shubaki, is considered the mastermind behind the Karin-A arms smuggling ship stopped by the Israelis on January 3, 2002.

The Karin-A shipment was an attempted shipment of arms from Iran to the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli authorities said they wanted to transfer the six -- including Saadat and Shubaki -- to Israeli prisons.

In response to the Israeli operation, angry Palestinian militants in Gaza on Tuesday attacked the office of European Union monitors, the British consulate and an American school.

Speaking from London, Saadat's attorney, Daniel Machover, said he had been attempting to get Saadat released safely from the prison.

Machover said he discussed the matter with his client last week and Saadat said that he feared the monitors would leave and that his life would be in danger. Machover said Saadat's detention was "administrative" and pointed out that his client has never been brought before any court.

Mohammed Dahlan, a member of the Palestinian parliament, accused acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of staging the operation to influence the upcoming Israeli parliamentary elections March 28.

"Israel's actions in the Jericho prison are designed to demonstrate that Olmert is 'tough' against a captive civilian population during Israel's campaign period," Dahlan said. "Is it really necessary to attack a prison with missiles?"

Prisoners said to have free rein

Western diplomatic sources confirmed that the U.S. and British observers left the prison after repeated complaints to the Palestinians that the prisoners covered under the international agreement were being given free rein at the prison to come and go, and were being allowed to use cell phones. The United States and United Kingdom wrote Abbas about their complaints. (Text of U.S.-UK letter to Abbas)

In remarks to the House of Commons on Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the monitors withdrew because the Palestinian Authority could not fulfill its commitment to keep them safe. (Full story)

In Washington, a U.S. State Department official also said that security was a concern. "We repeatedly said we didn't have adequate protection and this is a result to the repeated non-response," the official said.

The Palestinian Authority is blaming Britain and the United States for the Israeli operation.

In southern Gaza, the Swiss Red Cross worker was kidnapped Tuesday by masked, armed men, said Iyad Nassr, a spokesman for the territory's Red Cross office.

After the abduction, kidnappers called the office via the Swiss worker's cell phone, Nassr said. The Red Cross is now assured that the Swiss worker is safe and unharmed but is continuing to work to secure his release, Nassr said.

Anger about the Israeli operation in Jericho prompted Palestinian militants to storm the office of European Union monitors.

In addition, the British Council building in Gaza was stormed by militants and set ablaze. Also, an American institution that teaches English classes was fired on by Palestinian militants. Shaath said Palestinian security forces later regained control of the British Council building and the American school.

CNN's John Vause contributed to this report.

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