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Israel storms prison to seize Palestinian militant

Written by: Staff
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JERICHO, West Bank, Mar 14 (Reuters) Israeli forces stormed a West Bank prison today to try to seize the leader of a Palestinian militant group accused of killing an Israeli minister, storming in after U.S. and British monitors withdrew.

A guard and a prisoner were killed in clashes at Jericho prison, housing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) leader Ahmed Saadat and five other prominent figures held under foreign supervision for four years.

Israel's biggest raid for months, following Palestinian suggestions that Saadat might be freed, could strengthen the security credentials of interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert two weeks ahead of a general election that he is expected to win.

Khaled Meshaal, leader-in-exile of the militant Hamas group due to form the next Palestinian government, urged Palestinians to rally at the jail and warned Israel against harming Saadat.

Protests erupted across Palestinian territories, with most anger directed at Britain and the United States.

Militants set ablaze the British cultural centre and stormed the European Union compound in Gaza. Others kidnapped a Red Cross official believed to be from Switzerland from his office in Gaza.

France said two of its nationals were also kidnapped.

Palestinian security forces said they were checking reports of a separate kidnapping of two other foreigners.

Gunmen fired on a convoy of foreigners being evacuated from Gaza, but there were no casualties, security sources said.

''NO RED LINES''

In the Gaza Strip, PFLP militants and protesters set ablaze the British Council and stormed buildings used by the EU and a U.S. group. The British Council building in the West Bank city of Ramallah also came under attack. ''There are no red lines, any European is subject to kidnapping and killing,'' chanted PFLP militants, firing in the air.

Abbas said last week he was prepared to free Saadat, drawing an angry response from Israel. Last year Abbas said he planned to release Saadat but did not.

Israel says it has the right to bring Saadat to justice if he is released by the Palestinian Authority.

Israel had agreed to allow the Palestinian Authority to keep Saadat in Jericho prison under international supervision in a deal to end an Israeli siege of Yasser Arafat's compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah in May 2002.

The PFLP has Marxist roots and opposes peace talks with Israel.

The group, which was at the forefront of plane hijackings in the 1960s and 1970s, is part of Abbas's umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Hamas also opposes peace talks with Israel, which it seeks to destroy. The Islamist faction is expected to present its government this month after its election triumph in January.

Reuters

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