- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

RAMALLAH, West Bank Six Palestinians and one Israeli were killed in a seizure of violence in the West Bank yesterday, after Palestinians rejected the Jewish state's ultimatum to hand over the killers of Cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi.

Israeli tanks charged into two West Bank towns and gunbattles raged at several confrontation points, including Beit Jala, where Palestinians broke a localized truce in place since August and fired on Israelis in the adjacent Gilo neighborhood.

Early today, 20 Israeli tanks penetrated two miles into the autonomous Palestinian town of Bethlehem in the West Bank, witnesses observed.

Among the dead from the yesterday' violence were a 10-year-old Palestinian girl and an Israeli hiker.

The fighting formed the backdrop for Mr. Zeevi's state funeral, where some speakers called on the government to force the collapse of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's administration.

It also erased even the slightest hope for a cease-fire, which the United States had been working hard to achieve while it wages its global war against terrorism.

"All the American pressure in the world right now won't stop the fighting here," said one Western diplomat who refused to be identified. "There's just too much rage on both sides."

Israel sent its tanks into the Palestinian-controlled towns of Ramallah and Jenin early in the morning, tearing up asphalt and stirring up plumes of dust. A few Palestinians fired automatic rifles at the tanks from inside buildings and behind street corners but the Palestinian Authority did not dispatch its troops to halt the incursion.

By midmorning, residents of both towns had scurried indoors, leaving the streets eerily quiet. In Ramallah, two tanks took up positions on a hill, their barrels pointed at the neighborhoods below.

In Jenin, a schoolgirl was killed and six others were wounded in crossfire near the Ibrahimin school. Palestinians said the girl, Reham Ward, died when a shell slammed into the school but a reporter on the scene found no evidence of shelling.

A few thousand people poured into the streets for the child's funeral procession, including masked gunmen. The girl's father, Nabil Ward, held a gun during the procession and led mourners in chants against Israel.

"I tell Sharon and all the criminals and terrorist Jews that the blood of my daughter Reham and all the other innocent martyrs will not go in vain. Blood will flow and bloom," he said, and squeezed off several rounds of gunfire into the air.

After nightfall, three Palestinians died when an explosion ripped through their car near Bethlehem. Among the dead was Atef Abiyat, a top Palestinian militant accused by Israel of killing at least five persons.

People in the area rushed to the car and dragged three charred bodies out of the burning wreckage. Witnesses were not sure if the car was struck by a missile or torn apart by a bomb but Palestinians blamed Israel for the incident.

Israel has killed scores of militants in targeted attacks since fighting erupted in the West Bank and Gaza 13 months ago but officials would not confirm if Israeli security was involved in the Bethlehem explosion. A statement from Mr. Sharon's office suggested Mr. Abiyat might have been preparing a car-bomb for an attack on Israel.

"I'm not sorry. He was a murderer. Who did it, I do not know," said Uzi Landau, Israel's public security minister, interviewed on Channel Two television.

Later in the evening, news broke of another attack, this one on Israelis. Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a group of hikers in the West Bank, killing one man and wounding two others.

Fighting between Israelis and Palestinians had eased slightly in recent weeks thanks in part to intensive American diplomacy.

Washington is concerned the fighting here will sap Muslim support for an all-out assault on international terrorism. Many Arabs define Israel's violence-punctuated occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as state terrorism and feel the United States should take on the Jewish state with the same vigor in which it is now going after Islamic militants.

The U.S. mediation effort collapsed when a Palestinian militant gunned down Mr. Zeevi Israel's minister of tourism at a Jerusalem hotel Wednesday.

The U.S. State Department, responding to the Israeli incursions in the West Bank, said both sides should avoid steps that inflame the situation and complicate measures to achieve calm.

It also called on Mr. Arafat to arrest the killers and bring them to justice but sidestepped the issue of Israeli demands to hand over the killers of the Israeli minister.

"That's something for the two sides to work out," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in Washington

Mr. Zeevi, who led the most right-wing party in Israel's parliament, had advocated the mass expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli security sources said police, after a 24-hour investigation, already knew the names of people involved in the attack. Israel passed those names to Mr. Arafat but members of his administration said the Palestinian Authority would not extradite anyone.

"That's not going to happen," said Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. Mr. Sharon said hours after the assassination that Israel would take undisclosed measures if Palestinians did not hand over the men.

In a statement yesterday, he said the Jewish state would act toward the Palestinian Authority "in accordance with the international rules that apply to authorities that support terrorism."

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