- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

HEBRON, West Bank Palestinian vigilantes killed three suspected informers yesterday to avenge Israel's slaying of a militia leader, while Palestinian officials said they made progress to resolve the standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
In the West Bank town of Ramallah, Israeli soldiers set off an explosion in the building adjacent to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's office, saying they were blowing up grenades found there.
The killings of suspected Palestinian collaborators in Hebron were believed tied to the Israeli helicopter attack on a car carrying Marwan Zalloum, the commander of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade militia, late Monday. Mr. Zalloum and his bodyguard were killed in the attack.
The Israeli military said Mr. Zalloum was responsible for dozens of attacks, including an April 12 suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed four Israelis and two Chinese workers, as well as a shooting attack on a Jewish settlers' enclave in Hebron in which a baby girl was killed last year.
Hundreds of bystanders, including children, gathered around the three gagged and bound victims, who each had been shot in the head. One body was strung up on an electricity pylon, and bystanders kicked and spat at the other two.
Earlier, thousands of mourners, led by scores of gunmen firing into the air nonstop, joined Mr. Zalloum's funeral procession.
In Ramallah, Israeli soldiers set off an explosion yesterday in the building next to Mr. Arafat's office, according to aides to the Palestinian leader who were inside the compound.
Israel's army said the blast, and another earlier yesterday inside the compound, were controlled explosions to blow up weapons found inside buildings.
The blast adjacent to Mr. Arafat's office was in a building that had been part of the Palestinian prison at the compound, said Tawfik Tirawi, head of Palestinian intelligence in the West Bank. He accused Israel of wanting to destroy the wall between the prison and Mr. Arafat's office so they could easily enter.
After three hours of negotiations to resolve the Bethlehem standoff, Palestinians said they were optimistic, and another session would be held later in the day. Earlier yesterday, three Armenian priests emerged from the besieged church compound after raising a sign in English reading "please help," the Israeli military said.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met at a tourism center on Manger Square for the first round of negotiations since some 230 armed Palestinians forced their way into the Church of the Nativity on April 2 to seek cover from advancing Israeli troops. Several dozen clergy and Palestinian civilians are also in the compound. Israel has offered the wanted men among those in the church exile or trial in Israel, a proposal the Palestinians have rejected.
Israel scaled down its military offensive on Sunday after withdrawing from Nablus, the West Bank's largest city, and most of Ramallah. But it said it would not hesitate to continue hunting down Palestinians believed to be involved in suicide bombings and other attacks against Israelis.
Earlier yesterday, Israeli forces raided several West Bank villages and arrested 26 Palestinians suspected of involvement in terror attacks, the military said yesterday.
At Mr. Arafat's Ramallah compound, a makeshift military tribunal on Monday began trying the four suspected assassins of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, a Palestinian security official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Mr. Zeevi was shot in a Jerusalem hotel Oct. 17.
The appointed judge in the trial is a Palestinian security official with no legal experience, and one policeman in the compound was assigned to be the defense attorney.
Israel has said it would not lift the siege until the assassins and two other wanted Palestinians hiding in the compound are brought to justice, but it appeared unlikely it would accept the proceedings inside Mr. Arafat's compound as adequate.

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