Israeli forces storm Palestinian prison provoking outburst of violence

A group of six Palestinians, including three jailed for killing an Israeli government minister, surrendered to Israeli forces after soldiers raided a prison in the West Bank town of Jericho, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The three inmates who surrendered were convicted in the 2001 killing of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi. The others included Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Defense Forces said in an e-mailed statement late yesterday.

The inmates had been held at the Jericho prison since they were convicted in 2002 by a Palestinian court. Under a special agreement, they were supervised by U.S. and U.K. personnel.

The assault prompted the largest ever wave of kidnappings of foreigners in the occupied territories and the destruction of UK and EU buildings. The attacks began in Gaza, where gunmen smashed their way into the British Council offices and burned them. Armed men also snatched westerners off the streets. A Swiss official of the International Red Cross was abducted in Gaza City. Two French nationals working for a medical aid agency and a Korean were kidnapped from one of the city's hotels. Two Australians were taken from a school in the north of the Gaza strip but later released.

The Palestinians' fury was fuelled by the suspicion that Britain had stepped aside for the assault. Some viewed the withdrawal of monitors as, in effect, handing the prisoners to Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said last week he might release Saadat, who was elected to parliament in the Jan. 25 elections that brought the Hamas group to power. Abbas condemned the raid and said he held the U.S. and British guards responsible.

Saadat has been in prison in Jericho since 2002, accused of ordering the killing of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi, who was shot dead in a Jerusalem hotel in 2001.

The United States called for calm and restraint by both the Palestinians and the Israelis on Tuesday after Israeli forces stormed a West Bank prison following the withdrawal of British monitors.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who is traveling with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Indonesia, said the United States had been in touch with both sides to appeal for calm.

We want to see this resolved as quickly and peacefully as possible," he said, adding that the British monitors were withdrawn out of concern for their safety.

There were no U.S. monitors in the prison at the time, McCormack said, although it was a joint British-U.S. mission.

Source: agencies

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov