- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

Israel shrugged off U.S. requests to withdraw troops from Palestinian territory and seized two suspected assassins of the Israeli tourism minister yesterday, possibly killing nine Palestinians during the mission.
Israeli forces said they killed five Palestinians in a fierce air, armor and infantry assault on the West Bank village of Beit Reema yesterday. Ten Palestinians were also seized in the operation. Among those seized were two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) accused in last week's assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.
Israel Radio said the man who pulled the trigger remained at large.
The Palestinian Authority called the Israeli assault a massacre and said nine Palestinians were killed.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday reiterated his appeal for Israel to pull back from the Palestinian territories it has occupied since the assassination.
He also said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat must arrest the suspected assassins and hold them in custody. He did not, however, endorse Israeli demands to have them turned over to Israel.
Zalman Shoval, a senior adviser to the Israeli government, said the U.S.-Israel dispute over the Israeli incursion was not serious.
"The political fallout in the relationship is perhaps not as fierce as it may appear but it is there," Mr. Shoval said in a meeting yesterday with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.
Israel said the dead were gunmen who were killed in fighting, but witnesses said they were Palestinian security forces killed in their sleep.
Israeli army spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ron Kitrey said Israel informed the Palestinian commander in the village about the raid shortly before it took place, and that his forces would not be harmed if they did not attack.
Witnesses said two helicopters firing heavy machine guns, more than five tanks, 15 armored personnel carriers, troops transporters, 15 jeeps and several armored bulldozers entered the village near the city of Ramallah, during the night.
Israeli field commander Col. Yair Golan said the dead either belonged to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah group, the militant Hamas or to the PFLP that killed Mr. Zeevi to avenge Israel's assassination of the group's leader.
Palestinian cooperation minister Nabil Shaath accused Israel of mounting its raid on Beit Reema despite knowing it had already captured Mr. Zeevi's assassins.
In Damascus, Syria, the PFLP swore revenge for the Israeli attack.
Claiming that a total of 16 people were killed, all of them civilians, PFLP spokesman Maher Taher said "this massacre will not pass without [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and his occupation army paying the price."
Mr. Powell, speaking before the House International Relations Committee yesterday, repeated his condemnation of Israeli "targeted killings" of suspected terrorists such as the PFLP leader, whose death set off the latest round of violence.
Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, New York Democrat, called the recent criticisms "very inconsistent."
"We are telling Israel to do as we say and not as we do," said Mr. Ackerman. He told Mr. Powell the only difference between the U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Isreal's policy was that Israel had been "more effective in locating its enemies and avoiding collateral damage."
However Mr. Shoval, a former ambassador to Washington, said Israel had the same right to enter Palestinian territory in force and to arrest or kill terrorists as the United States acting in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden.
David Sands contributed to this article.


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