Israeli combat helicopters blasted missiles into a Palestinian Authority compound
in the West Bank city of Hebron yesterday to force out a group of Palestinians
who have been holed up for three days.
Six weeks after the end of the bloody siege of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem,
another stand-off has developed between Israeli forces and Palestinians, which
has so far claimed four lives. It began after the Israeli army, trying to stop
suicide bombings, reoccupied all but one of the big Palestinian towns in the West
Bank. The sweeping military operation left 700,000 people under curfew. Israeli
forces have killed at least five small children in the West Bank in the past week;
reports yesterday suggested that another Palestinian child, aged six, had been
added to the death toll.
Israeli military officials have said that 150 people inside the Palestinian
government compound in Hebron, a British Mandate-era building, have surrendered.
In the past few days, the compound has been pounded by tanks and helicopters as
the Israeli army tries to winkle out its inmates. Yesterday, Israeli helicopters
fired four missiles into the building. Israeli officials said about 40 Palestinians
remained inside, some of whom it considers as wanted men.
"We know that a few wanted persons are inside and we intend to apprehend them,"
Brigadier General Ron Kitrey told Israel Army Radio. "We prefer to do it without
a battle, but if it proves necessary, there will be one."
Information about the events in Hebron, as in all but one of the main Palestinian-run
towns on the West Bank, has been patchy because the Israeli army has declared
the area to be a "closed military zone" barring access to journalists.
Israeli soldiers using loudspeakers warned Palestinians inside the hill-top
compound to surrender within 10 minutes or face attacks, AFP reported. It said
minutes later, two helicopters swooped over the building, unleashing a barrage
of rockets and missiles. The Israeli army warned that it would overrun the battered
complex if those inside did not come out.
Khalid al-Ammayreh, a Palestinian journalist in Hebron, told the BBC that the
building had been extremely badly damaged. "The Israelis have been bombarding
the building for the past 24 hours and they are wreaking havoc."
Hebron's mayor, Mustafa Natshe, said contacts were under way with Israeli officials
to end the stand-off but had so far produced no results. Hebron has long been
highly volatile, not least because part of the largely Palestinian city is under
Israeli control, with a few hundred settlers living in enclaves protected by troops.
Elsewhere, Palestinian officials said two Palestinians were killed yesterday.
In the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, a 17-year-old was killed when troops opened
fire on stone-throwers. Eight people were reported wounded. Palestinians said
soldiers shot and wounded three Palestinians in Qalqilya after a curfew was lifted.
A six-year-old boy later died of his injuries.
© 2002 lndependent Digital (UK) Ltd