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Israel Pulls Back Tanks; 4 Killed

February 25, 2002

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JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel on Monday pulled back the tanks surrounding Yasser Arafat’s compound in the West Bank, but angry Palestinian officials said the move was meaningless because of the continued restrictions on the movements of the Palestinian leader.

Violence broke out in the West Bank, with two Palestinians shot dead by Israeli troops in separate confrontations at military checkpoints, and two Israelis killed in a gunfire attack.

In one instance, a Palestinian man was killed while taking his pregnant wife to the hospital in Nablus. The woman, who was slightly injured, gave birth to a girl shortly after her husband died.

It was the second day in a row a pregnant Palestinian woman heading to the hospital was wounded by Israeli gunfire at the same checkpoint in Nablus.

In the West Bank, two Israelis were killed in a shooting attack near Bethlehem, military sources and rescue service officials said. In another attack, near Hebron, a 16-year-old Israeli boy was seriously wounded, the military and Jewish settlers said.

The two Israeli civilians died when Palestinians opened fire on their car at a roadblock near the isolated Jewish settlement of Nokdim south of Bethlehem. Two others were wounded, one seriously, rescue workers said. In a telephone call to The Associated Press, the Al Aqsa brigade, linked to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility.

The seriously wounded Israeli was a pregnant woman who gave birth to a healthy baby an hour after the attack, hospital officials said.

Responding to the fatal attack, Israeli Foreign Ministry official Gideon Meir said, ``Every terror attack just pushes away any peace initiative.″

Israel, which has kept Arafat confined to Ramallah for nearly three months, withdrew tanks early Monday that had been about 100 yards outside his government compound.

However, Israeli troops will remain posted around the city’s perimeter, the army said, and Arafat will not be allowed to leave the city, the Israeli government said.

The Palestinians had hoped last week’s arrests of three top suspects in the October killing of Israeli Cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi might end Arafat’s confinement. But Israel on Sunday demanded again that they be handed over to Israel and that other suspects be arrested as well.

Arafat has been restricted to Ramallah since early December, shortly after a wave of suicide bombings in Israel.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said the withdrawal of the tanks ``changes nothing″ because Arafat had been able to get around Ramallah already. In recent days he prayed at a mosque about a mile away from his compound and attended the opening of a play.

``This is a very terrible decision,″ said Erekat. ``Why is it that every time we try to proceed with the peace process ... they take such decisions?″

Arafat hopes to attend an Arab League summit next month in Lebanon, and Israeli officials are concerned Arafat might turn that summit into a show of support and return with increased backing for the 17-month-old Palestinian uprising.

European Union official Javier Solana called in Israel to lift all restrictions on Arafat. This came after Solana met Arafat in Ramallah.

In Monday’s roadblock incidents, Palestinian Mohammed Hayek was driving his wife Maysoun from their West Bank village to the Rafidia hospital in Nablus after she went into labor.

As they approached a checkpoint, Mohammed Hayek was hit in the neck by a gunshot, his wife said afterward in an interview from her bed at the Rafidia Hospital.

According to the army, soldiers opened fire when a car tried to get past an earthen barricade blocking the road, and ignored soldiers’ orders to stop. When the driver attempted to reverse to detour around the temporary roadblock, soldiers shot at the car, the army said.

After the car came to a stop, Hayek opened the door and began yelling, ``baby″ in English, she said. Soldiers approached, and began administering first aid, placing her and her wounded father-in-law on stretchers, she said.

Hayek, who was lightly injured, gave birth to a healthy girl three minutes after she reached the hospital, said Dr. Samir Abu Zaror at Rafidia hospital.

Her father-in-law, Abdullah Hayek, was in critical condition after bullets penetrated his neck and chest, the doctor added. Hayek’s husband was dead upon arrival at the hospital, officials said.

A similar shooting took place Sunday at the same checkpoint on Al Quds street in Nablus.

In that case, Israeli troops said they opened fire when the car carrying Shadia Shehade and her husband Issam failed to stop. Issam Shehade said he heard no order to stop.

A bullet passed through Shadia Shehade’s chest, but did not hit any vital organs. She was in stable condition and her wounds were not life threatening, doctors said. Shehade gave birth to a healthy baby girl on Sunday, six hours after she was shot.

In another checkpoint shooting Monday, a Palestinian girl was killed when she ran toward an army checkpoint near Tulkarem, brandishing a knife, the army said. Soldiers shot her after calling on her to stop and shooting warning bullets in the air, the army said.

The girl’s father, Jamal Shalhoub, said his daughter Noura, 16, had been deeply affected by the violence and that apparently moved her to attempt an attack on the Israeli soldiers.

In another checkpoint incident on Sunday night, Israeli soldiers near Ramallah opened fire on a car belonging to a senior Palestinian official, Ahmed Qureia. His car was hit by several bullets, but no one was hurt.

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