Thu, Mar 14, 2002 - Page 1 News List

No letup in Israeli offensive ahead of key US visit

REUTERS , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

An officer in Yasser Arafat's guard and an Italian war photographer were killed yesterday as Israel pressed on with its biggest offensive in decades against the Palestinians on the eve of a US peace mission.

Abu Fadi, deputy commander in Ramallah for Arafat's Force 17 elite guard, was killed in new fighting, Palestinian security sources said. They gave no details.

Photographer Raffaele Ciriello was shot six times in the chest while covering the Israeli takeover of the West Bank city of Ramallah, the first foreign journalist to die in 17 months of conflict.

Palestinian hospital sources said Ciriello, a freelance journalist, was killed by Israeli gunfire after tanks stormed into Ramallah on Tuesday, a day in which 41 people were killed on both sides in one of the bloodiest cycles of violence so far. But the army said it did not know the circumstances of Ciriello's death and had opened an investigation.

Hundreds of spent bullet cartridges were scattered around Ramallah's central al-Manara Square following heavy shooting in the area overnight. Israeli tanks and armored vehicles were stationed at schools and on road junctions throughout the city.

The latest bloodshed left little room for hope that US envoy Anthony Zinni, due to arrive in Israel today, would be able to convince Israelis and Palestinians to end the bloodshed after failed missions in December and January.

"Zinni will not succeed if we do not help him," Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the government's leading dove, told Channel Two television.

His comments implied criticism of the two-week-old campaign in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, now involving 20,000 troops, launched by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after Palestinian attacks brought intensified right-wing calls for tougher action.

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