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Israel Storms Prison to Seize Palestinian Militant
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Israeli forces stormed a West Bank prison yesterday to try to seize the leader of a Palestinian militant group accused of killing an Israeli minister, storming in after US and British monitors withdrew.

A guard and a prisoner were killed in clashes at Jericho prison, housing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) leader Ahmed Saadat and five other prominent figures held under foreign supervision for four years.

Israel's biggest raid for months, following Palestinian suggestions that Saadat might be freed, could strengthen the security credentials of interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert two weeks ahead of a general election that he is expected to win.

Khaled Meshaal, leader-in-exile of the militant Hamas group due to form the next Palestinian government, urged Palestinians to rally at the jail and warned Israel against harming Saadat.

Protests erupted across Palestinian territories, with most anger directed at Britain and the United States.

Militants set ablaze the British cultural center and stormed the European Union compound in Gaza. Others kidnapped a Red Cross official believed to be from Switzerland from his office in Gaza. France said two of its nationals were also kidnapped. Palestinian security forces said they were checking reports of a separate kidnapping of two other foreigners. Gunmen fired on a convoy of foreigners being evacuated from Gaza, but there were no casualties, security sources said.

Israeli soldiers blew up the outer wall of the Jericho jail compound, then brought up bulldozers. Through loudhailers, troops demanded that the militants turn themselves in.

At least 150 Palestinian prisoners and guards gave themselves up to Israeli forces, Israeli military sources said. Troops took aside prisoners, some in their underwear. Saadat and the other five militants were not among them.

"Maybe they will take us alive or dead. We will not surrender," Ahmed Saadat told Al-Jazeera television by telephone from the prison. "Our morale is high and we will die as men."

Israel said the decision was taken because of reports that they could be released a possibility raised by Hamas after it won a January election and by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week.

Israel says Saadat ordered the killing of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001. The PFLP said it assassinated Zeevi to avenge the killing of one of its leaders.

Abbas's Palestinian Authority condemned the raid and the withdrawal of the US and British monitors. US and British officials said the monitors left because the Palestinians had failed to implement requested security improvements.

"President Abbas strongly condemns this Israeli attack and holds the American and British sides fully responsible for any harm that befalls Saadat and his colleagues," the Palestinian leader's office said in a statement.

Hamas warned Israel against harming the prisoners and accused Olmert's government of "trying to use Palestinian blood to win the Israeli election." The group's leader Meshaal denounced the Jericho raid. "We hold Israel responsible for any consequences arising from this crime and warn them against harming Ahmed Saadat ... and all the prisoners in Jericho," he said in Saudi Arabia.

(China Daily March 15, 2006)


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