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Palestinians Keep Up Protest Over Arrest as Ramadan Begins

November 17, 2001|From Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Hundreds of Palestinians protested outside a West Bank police station for the third day Friday, demanding the release of a leading Islamic militant held by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's security forces.

In Jerusalem, Israeli police boosted forces and tightened security as 20,000 Palestinians prayed at the Al Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third-holiest shrine, to mark the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer reiterated that he has no plans to recapture Palestinian territory or try to topple Arafat's government. Despite Ben-Eliezer's assurances, Israeli troops briefly entered two Palestinian areas in the Gaza Strip on Friday, leveling farmland and destroying a Palestinian police post.

In the West Bank town of Jenin, about 2,000 Palestinians marched to protest Wednesday's arrest of Mahmoud Tawalbi, a leading member of the militant Islamic Jihad group, by West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub. Tawalbi is suspected of having masterminded suicide bombings in Israel.

The march was peaceful, and protesters gave flowers to officers guarding a police compound in Jenin, witnesses said. Previous marches this week became violent when Tawalbi's supporters clashed with police, firing into the air and throwing stones and grenades, although no injuries were reported.

In Israel, a Palestinian was killed and another wounded when police converged on an orchard near the city of Ramle, police spokesman Gil Kleiman said. Israel Radio reported that the two had been smuggled from Gaza a few days ago and were suspected of planning a terror attack.

In Jerusalem, Ramadan prayers passed without incident, though Palestinians complained that Israeli security forces prevented many worshipers from entering the city. Police said they denied entry to younger Palestinians but allowed in some older Palestinians from the West Bank despite an Israeli-enforced closure.

Several hundred young Palestinians prayed outside Jerusalem's Old City after they scuffled with police who kept them from entering. More than 2,000 police patrolled the area.

In northern Gaza Strip, the Israeli army said it opened fire overnight on armed Palestinians who tried to infiltrate the Nissanit settlement.

In an effort to lower tensions in the region, a group of European Union diplomats--including special envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos, foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, representing the EU presidency--was expected to arrive today.

The delegation was scheduled to meet with Arafat this afternoon and with Israeli leaders Sunday before continuing on to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

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