Israeli tanks retaliate for West Bank death

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Reuters

Israeli tanks bombarded Palestinian security posts in the West Bank on Friday in retaliation for the fatal shooting hours earlier of an Israeli teenager by Palestinian gunmen.

No injuries were reported after the reprisal strike during which Israeli army tanks thrust into Palestinian-run areas and destroyed three posts on the line between Israeli and Palestinian positions around the city of Ramallah.

Later on Friday, the army imposed a curfew on two Palestinian villages near the West Bank city of Nablus after clashes between soldiers and Palestinians on a road leading to a Jewish settlement.

The curfew prevented the villagers from leaving their homes and closed access roads to all traffic moving in or out.

As violence raged, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat met in the Gaza Strip with European Union envoy Miguel Moratinos to discuss ways to end the Palestinian uprising against occupation that began last September and move toward eventual peace talks.

Neither man made any comment after their meeting.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said after the tank attack: “In reaction to yesterday’s terror attack in which a 17-year-old youth was killed, the army removed three Force 17 outposts…two north of Ramallah and another in Beitunia, west of Ramallah.”

Witnesses in Ramallah, a Palestinian political and commercial hub, said the boom of tanks shells echoed through the city until the early hours of the morning. Helicopters hovered overhead throughout the assault.

Force 17 is one of several Palestinian security formations controlled by Arafat. Young recruits in the group are entrusted with guarding entrances of Palestinian-ruled cities to prevent Israeli incursions.

“We have instructions from our leadership never to open fire at Israeli targets in occupied areas. We are entrusted with defending our land,” a Force 17 commander, Abu Sufian, told Reuters.

The army attack was a rapid response to the killing of Israeli teenager Ronen Landau on Thursday evening as he drove home with his father and brother from Jerusalem to the adjacent settlement of Givat Zeev.

None of the three Force 17 outposts destroyed was near Givat Zeev. At least 15 tank shells were used in the attacks, witnesses said. Israeli tank tracks were clearly visible inside Palestinian-controlled areas.

Three houses, one shop, and a hotel were damaged by shrapnel and heavy machinegun fire.

In other violence early on Friday, an army spokeswoman said two mortar shells were fired at the Jewish settlement of Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip. Little damage resulted.

She said several hand grenades were thrown at an Israeli army post on the Israel-Egypt border, with no injuries reported.

A radical Palestinian group calling itself the “Popular Army Front, Return Battalions” issued a statement saying its fighters had on Thursday activated explosive devices near settlers’ cars on two bypass roads in the West Bank .