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Israelis Raid Bethlehem, UN Worker Killed in Jenin

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Israelis Raid Bethlehem, UN Worker Killed in Jenin

46 minutes ago Add World - Reuters to My Yahoo!

By Said Ayyad

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli forces took over Bethlehem on Friday after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 11 people on a bus, and a British U.N. aid worker was shot dead during a gun battle in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Israel said it opened an investigation to discover the source of the gunfire that tore through a U.N. trailer and killed Iain Hook of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Jenin refugee camp as troops fought Palestinian gunmen.

A Palestinian doctor in Jenin hospital said bullets taken from Hook's body were of a type used by Israeli soldiers. Hook, 54, ran a UNRWA reconstruction project in the Jenin camp, heavily damaged in an Israeli sweep for militants in April.

Israeli armor rumbled into Bethlehem in the West Bank before dawn and took up positions across the city in response to Thursday's suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus.

Soldiers arrested suspected militants and sealed off the Church of the Nativity, revered as the birthplace of Jesus, to prevent any militants taking refuge there as they did during an Israeli incursion in April.

"We are currently controlling the whole city," a local military commander said. The army said troops were searching for 30 militants involved in the bus bombing and other attacks.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent troops in to reoccupy Bethlehem after pressure to hit back hard for the bombing.

But his response is likely to be tempered by calls for restraint by the United States, which fears violence in the region could undermine its efforts to achieve calm as it seeks Arab support for a possible war on Iraq.

"I have ordered the security forces to take all necessary steps in order to hurt those who try to harm us," Sharon told reporters during a visit to a lookout near Bethlehem.

The army blew up the home near Bethlehem of the 23-year-old bomber behind Thursday's attack and destroyed houses in the Gaza Strip (news - web sites) belonging to two members of the militant group Hamas.

Troops rounded up about 20 suspects in Bethlehem and 16 people elsewhere in the West Bank, most of them members of Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the attack.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said the Israeli operation violated international agreements.


British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw telephoned Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after news of Hook's death.

"Mr. Netanyahu expressed his sincere condolences to the family of Iain Hook for his death, however it had happened," a British Foreign Office statement said, adding he had promised an immediate investigation.

Captain Sharon Feingold, an Israeli army spokeswoman, said the incident began when soldiers went into Jenin to arrest a senior member of the militant Islamic Jihad group.

Abdullah Wahash, linked by Israel to an October 21 bus bombing that killed 14 people, was detained.

"During our operation, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on our forces. A battle erupted -- massive exchanges of fire in which we understand a U.N. official was hit," Feingold said.

"We immediately coordinated his evacuation to the nearest hospital and I'm sorry to hear that he did not make it."

The death underscored the dangers international aid workers face daily as Israel and the Palestinians do battle in a two-year-old Palestinian uprising for statehood.

Also in Jenin, Israeli gunfire killed a 10-year-old boy, Palestinian doctors said. The army did not immediately confirm the death.


Thursday's bombing, which killed 11 people including two 13-year-old schoolgirls and an eight-year-old boy and his grandmother, was the first such attack since a general election campaign began in Israel.

It indicated that militants are determined to make their presence felt in the runup to Israel's January 28 ballot.

In Gaza, Palestinian security sources said a police officer was killed by a tank shell near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim. The army said he was part of an armed group attempting to infiltrate the settlement.

Palestinian gunmen in Gaza also killed an Israeli soldier early on Friday, the army said.

Opinion polls of Likud members in newspapers on Friday showed Sharon maintaining a lead of between 16 to 18 percentage points over his rival Netanyahu in a Likud leadership race next Thursday. Whoever wins is expected to be the next premier.

At least 1,677 Palestinians and 662 Israelis have been killed since the start of the Palestinian uprising.

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