RAMALLAH, 25 October — Israeli forces killed at least five
Palestinians in a fierce air, armor and infantry assault on a West Bank village
yesterday which defied a US call for a pullout from Palestinian territory. But
the Palestine Authority put the number of dead at nine.
The new bloodshed dealt another blow to Washington’s efforts to end more than
a year of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, which it hopes would bolster Arab
support for its campaign in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United
The army’s West Bank commander said Palestinians involved in the killing a
week ago of far-right Cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi were arrested in the raid
on the village of Beit Rima. Israel Radio said the actual shooter was still at
The Palestinian Authority called it a massacre and blamed it on Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon and his army chief. But amid the latest upsurge in
violence, there were tenuous signs that the Israeli army might soon pull back
from six West Bank cities it entered or besieged after Zeevi was killed.
Israeli officials said Sharon would consult with senior Cabinet ministers
today to discuss whether to withdraw from some of the Palestinian-ruled areas
taken in recent days. Stepping up US pressure, Secretary of State Colin Powell
issued a new appeal for a withdrawal, saying: “I think at this time it would be
appropriate for the Israeli government to immediately withdraw from the
(Palestinian-ruled) Area A, the villages that they have occupied.”
Israel and the Palestinians offered very different versions of what happened
in the raid on Beit Rima. The Israeli military said all the dead were gunmen
killed in fighting. Palestinian witnesses said all the dead were members of the
Palestinian security forces guarding the town’s entrance and that they were
killed in their sleep.
The army prevented reporters from entering the village and Palestinian
ambulances and the ICRC were unable to enter. Witnesses said two helicopters
firing heavy machineguns, 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.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) swore that it would
avenge those Palestinians killed