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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel OKs Bush Plan but Snubs UN Probe

JERUSALEM -- Israel's Cabinet approved Sunday a proposal by U.S. President George W. Bush that could lead to the lifting of a month-old Israeli siege on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Israeli political sources said.

However, at the same time, the Cabinet decided not to allow a UN fact-finding team to come to the region to look into the battle in the Jenin refugee camp.

Israeli Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin, briefing reporters after a lengthy Cabinet meeting, said the United Nations had gone back on its agreements with Israel over the team, and so it would not be allowed to arrive.

Under the Bush plan to free Arafat, U.S. or British jailers would guard four militants convicted Thursday by an ad hoc Palestinian military court for their part in the Oct. 17 killing of ultranationalist Israeli minister Rehavam Zeevi.

Israel had demanded their extradition and that of an official accused of smuggling arms for the Palestinian Authority as a condition for removing its tanks from Arafat's battered compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The political sources said the Cabinet voted 17 to eight in favor of Bush's proposal. They said the president had invited Sharon to Washington next week for talks.

Mohammed Dahlan, a Palestinian security chief, called the Cabinet decision a retraction in the Israeli position.

"It will be presented to President Arafat who will take a decision," he said.

"We have vetoed any attempt to hand over these people and President Arafat has paid a price for that rejection by the existing blockade against him."

The development follows an attack Saturday in which Palestinian gunmen disguised as Israeli soldiers killed four Jewish settlers in the West Bank in the first such attack since Israel launched the crushing invasion of Palestinian-ruled cities a month ago.

Three gunmen cut through the perimeter fence surrounding the Adora settlement, a few kilometers west of the divided city of Hebron, while many residents were attending Sabbath prayers in the local synagogue.

Attackers sprayed gunfire into one house, killing a five-year-old girl, the army said. They broke into another house and shot a couple in their bedroom, killing a 45-year-old woman.

Two men, aged 20 and 50, were shot dead in the street, and eight people were wounded, including a four-year-old boy, officials said.

Anat Harari said a gunman shot at her at point-blank range through her kitchen window, wounding her in the shoulder.

"I entered the bathroom. I lay there, bloodied. The terrorist tried to enter the house ... He shot at the door," she told Israeli television. "He passed from window to window and didn't stop shooting."

The settlement's security officers rushed to the scene and fired on the gunmen, who escaped. Military officials said troops on the outskirts of Hebron later killed an armed Palestinian believed to have been involved in the raid.

The attack took place a day after Bush insisted Israel must end its military offensive "now," after another Israeli raid defied his earlier demands.

It immediately raised the specter of fresh Israeli retaliation. "The attack this morning against Israeli citizens in the West Bank proves that terror has not yet been eradicated," Israeli government spokesman Aryeh Mekel said.

Hebron was the only big West Bank city not reoccupied in Israel's offensive, perhaps because the army feared a full-scale assault would endanger about 400 Jewish settlers living in heavily guarded enclaves among 120,000 Palestinians.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Adora attack, which was the first deadly raid on a West Bank settlement since the Israeli military campaign began.

Israel withdrew last week from most West Bank towns and cities while maintaining a ring of armor around them. But up until now has kept its forces in place around Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah and in Bethlehem where they surround the Church of the Nativity.

Israel says militants inside the church are holding hostage scores of civilians, including clergymen and nuns. Palestinians deny anyone is being held at the shrine against their will.

Israel has up until now vowed to keep up its siege until the militants surrender for trial or exile. The Palestinians reject these terms.

On the Jenin mission, Rivlin, speaking for the Cabinet, said the composition of the team and its terms of reference made it inevitable that its report would blame Israel.

"This awful United Nations committee is out to get us and is likely to smear Israel and to force us to do things which Israel is not prepared even to hear about, such as interrogating soldiers and officers who took part in the fighting," he said. "No country in the world would agree to such a thing."

Israel first accepted the UN mission to Jenin, then threatened to block it, apparently fearing it would find itself in the dock. Palestinians say this shows Israel has something to hide.

(Reuters, AP)