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Arab League, Muslim groups blame U.S., Britain for Jericho raid

2006-03-14 20:34:28

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Arab League, Muslim groups blame U.S., Britain for Jericho raid

The Arab League and other Muslim countries have condemned an Israeli raid on a West Bank jail that netted six Palestinian militants, blaming both Britain and the U.S. for allowing it to happen.

Protesters set vehicles on fire in front of the British council in Gaza after Israel's raid on a jail in the West Bank town of Jericho. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The militants, including Ahmed Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), surrendered on Tuesday, 10 hours after Israeli forces stormed the Jericho compound.

Saadat is believed to have masterminded the 2001 assassination of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi. The other militants are also believed to be members of the PFLP.

Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League, said Britain and the U.S. removed their observers from the prison shortly before the Israeli raid began.

"Clearly, there is some sort of co-ordination," he added. The Arab League is the world's largest Muslim organization.

The Saudi-based Organization of the Islamic Conference also condemned the raid.

"The governments of Britain and the United States bear direct and serious responsibility for what happened in the prison and escalating what took place later," said a statement from the organization.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the action breaks a 2002 deal that saw Saadat transferred to the prison under American and British supervision.

Saadat was taken to the prison after being holed up with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his Ramallah compound during a large-scale Israeli military operation. U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed to transfer Saadat to the Jericho prison.

But Israel, who feared the incoming Hamas government would release Saadat, said it was the Palestinians who violated the 2002 deal.

The Israel raid triggered violence across Gaza and the West Bank.

Enraged Palestinians attacked American and British targets in the Palestinian territories and seized a number of foreigners, including a Canadian aid worker who was abducted.

The man, who works for an aid organization called Jumpstart, was kidnapped early Tuesday morning. There's no word yet on his situation. An earlier report said Palestinian police intercepted the kidnappers' vehicle and freed the man.

A UN agency and the International Red Cross have temporarily pulled all foreign staff from Gaza and the West Bank.

Hundreds of Israeli troops in tanks and armoured vehicles burst through the prison's front gate shortly after 9 a.m. local time on Tuesday.

Two large explosions were heard and smoke filled the sky as helicopters hovered overhead.

A gun battle erupted between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian prison guards, while tires burned on the road and children threw rocks at the soldiers. A Palestinian security official and a prisoner were killed in the shootout.

Israeli soldiers guard Palestinian prisoners after Tuesday's raid. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

Several hours into the raid, dozens of prisoners, clad only in their underwear, emerged from the prison. Some were taken away by Israeli forces.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw issued a written statement saying British officials had repeatedly warned Abbas they would withdraw monitors unless the security situation at the prison improved, a claim echoed by Washington.

Palestinian officials called the raid a campaign stunt for interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is considered the front-runner in the upcoming March 28 national elections.

Foreigners kidnapped

About 300 demonstrators gathered in Gaza City where they set fire to the European Commission building and hoisted the PFLP flag. They also set fire to British council offices in Gaza and Ramallah, and burned a number of cars.

Along with the Canadian, a number of other foreigners were kidnapped, including Red Cross employee Julien Grosclaude, two South Korean journalists, two Australian teachers and a French woman.

There are unconfirmed reports that armed militants are searching hotels for foreigners.

Representatives from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and PFLP issued statements saying they would target Britons or Americans if any of the prisoners are harmed.

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