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Israel bans Palestinians from coming into country

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

JERUSALEM -- Israel clamped a total closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Monday, banning all Palestinians from entering Israel, citing warnings of Palestinian attacks.

Earlier Monday, Israeli troops killed two suspected Palestinian militants, including an unarmed fugitive, and caught a would-be suicide bomber who hid an explosives-laden suitcase in a hotel.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz canceled measures aimed at easing restrictions during the Muslim feast of the sacrifice holiday this week, the ministry said. Quoting unidentified military sources, Army Radio said there were reports that militants intend to carry out terror attacks in the coming days.

Total closures are infrequent, though Israel has severely restricted access for Palestinians to Israel throughout 28 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

The military had said it would ease restrictions for workers to enter Israel and would allow Palestinians over age 45 to pray at a hotly disputed holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem during the holiday. The defense minister also instructed the army "to exhibit extra sensitivity" toward Palestinians during the holiday, said a military statement issued earlier Monday.

Canceling the orders meant that Israeli roadblocks on West Bank roads would remain in place, preventing Palestinians from moving around freely to visit relatives or work.

The restrictions have severely hurt the Palestinian economy and Palestinian morale since the restrictions were imposed shortly after the violence erupted in September 2000.

Before that, more than 100,000 Palestinians used to cross into Israel to work every day, a vital source of income for the impoverished territories. Palestinians contend the measures are collective punishment that harm the innocent; Israel maintains they are necessary for security. During the current conflict, more than 80 Palestinian suicide bombers have killed more than 300 Israelis.

In Monday's violence, a Palestinian fugitive, Imad Mabruk, jumped from the roof of his home in the al-Ain refugee camp near Nablus to the roof of a nearby building to escape soldiers who called on him to surrender, said his cousin, Yousef Mabruk.

Mabruk hid on the roof for several hours and at about 5 a.m. gunshots were heard. Shortly after the soldiers left, the family found Mabruk's body, riddled with gunshot wounds, on the roof, Yousef Mabruk said.

Imad Mabruk was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical PLO faction.

Israeli military officials confirmed that Mabruk was unarmed, but said he presented a danger to soldiers because he was a senior fugitive and could have been heavily armed. He was shot and killed while trying to escape, the officials said.

Also in the West Bank, troops arrested a Palestinian who the army said was planning to carry out a suicide attack in Israel. A suitcase with 44 pounds of explosives was found in a hotel in the town of Ramallah where the accused bomber was hiding, the army said.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces stationed near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim shot and killed a Palestinian carrying an assault rifle and hand grenades, the army said.


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