Wed, Jul 07, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Palestinians, Israeli soldier die in battle

CLASHES Riot squad officers regained control of a high security prison, while a raid on a refugee camp claimed the lives of a professor and his teenage son

AP AND AFP , JERUSALEM AND NABLUS, WEST BANK

Smoke rises after Israeli troops blow up an apartment building in the West Bank city of Nablus yesterday, the scene of an Israeli raid searching for Palestinian militants.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Four Palestinians, including a university professor and his teenage son, and an Israeli commando were killed yesterday in a fierce nighttime gun battle in a refugee camp in this West Bank city, Palestinian officials and the army said.

Meanwhile, riot squad officers regained control of a high security prison in northern Israel yesterday after clashes broke out between guards and Palestinian detainees, prison authorities said.

One guard had been wounded when inmates threw boiling oil over him during the disturbances at Gilboa prison in the Galilee where around 800 Palestinian inmates are detained.

"The disturbance, whose cause is still unknown, has been brought under control," prison service spokeswoman Sharon Gutman said.

"The prisoners have returned to their cells," she added.

The elite squad had been called in after the regular guards lost control at the prison near the town of Beit Shean.

Around 6,000 Palestinians are estimated to be currently in Israeli detention.

An intense exchange of fire erupted in the Ein Beit Ilma refugee camp when an elite Israeli commando unit raided the area backed by tanks, jeeps and helicopter gunships, witnesses said. Helicopters fired four missiles. Gunmen positioned in buildings and on the street opened fire.

The Israeli commando was killed early in the operation as troops searched for fugitives, including the top two officials from the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Both were shot dead during the battle.

Troops also knocked at the door of the house of Khaled Sallah, a professor at Nablus' A-Najah University. Sallah and his 16-year-old son, Mohammed, opened the door. The soldiers fired from behind the door, killing both of them, relatives said.

The army had no comment on the shooting, but said fighting erupted in a civilian neighborhood when the fugitives fled into a residential building, apparently the same one the Sallah family lives in.

The fighting raged until after dawn. The sound of gunfire echoed throughout the city. Electricity was knocked out in the western half of Nablus. Explosions reverberated in the night, as bombs laid by Palestinian militants went off sporadically.

In the morning, soldiers continued searching the refugee camp for fugitives.

"We want to condemn this Israeli military escalation," Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said. "This will undermine the efforts being exerted to end the vicious cycle of violence and restart the peace process."

talks

The fighting erupted hours before envoys of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators -- the US, EU, UN and Russia -- were to meet in Jerusalem.

The talks were focused on Egypt's role in the Gaza Strip following a planned Israeli withdrawal.

The Quartet backed the "road map" peace plan, which aims for an independent Palestinian state by next year. It is supporting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza and four West Bank settlements, although it wants the withdrawals to be a step in carrying out the road map.

Egypt, which borders Gaza, has pledged to help train Palestinian security forces to ensure a smooth handover after the pullout. Sharon refuses to negotiate directly with the Palestinians.

Sharon's plan has met hardline resistance in Israel, leading to concerns of growing Jewish extremism.

militancy

Avi Dichter, the head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, warned at a Cabinet meeting on Sunday that he was concerned about growing militancy among opponents to the evacuation of settlements.

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