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U S urges restraint over Jericho jail raid

Written by: Staff

SYDNEY, Mar 16 (Reuters) US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today that the United States had been in touch with Israel and the Palestinians to urge restraint after Israeli forces raided a West Bank jail this week.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday condemned Israel's raid on a Jericho jail to seize a militant leader as a crime that would not be forgiven and accused British and US monitors supervising the prison of complicity with Israel.

''We have, in the face of the recent actions and difficulties in Jericho, been in touch with all the parties to urge calm and restraint,'' Rice told reporters during a trip to Australia.

Across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Palestinians went on strike over an Israeli military operation that has boosted the standings of interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ahead of March 28 general elections.

Israeli security forces were on high alert after Ahmed Saadat's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Islamist militant group Hamas promised retaliation for his seizure from the prison in Jericho.

Rice said the United States and Britain agreed to monitor the prison back in 2002, but overall security at the prison was the responsibility of the Palestinians.

She said the United States and Britain had grown increasingly concerned for the safety of monitors over the past 12 months, and Palestinian authorities were told on March 8 that the monitors would be withdrawn unless security was improved.

''We agreed to monitor this prison, but security for the prison was the responsibility of the Palestinian security forces,'' Rice said.

Israeli forces used tanks and bulldozers to tear apart the Jericho jail on Tuesday to grab Saadat, accused by Israel of overseeing the 2001 assassination of Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi, for which responsibility was claimed by the PFLP.

The United States and Britain, citing security concerns, withdrew the monitors on Tuesday and Israeli forces moved in minutes later. Both denied cooperating with Israel.

Abbas demanded the return of Saadat and the five others.

Olmert said they would be tried and ''punished as they deserve''.

Saadat, 51, was sent to Jericho jail in 2002 under an internationally-brokered deal that ended an Israeli siege that year of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah, where the PFLP leader had taken refuge.

The PFLP, one of the smaller groups waging a Palestinian revolt, said it shot Zeevi, a far-right ex-general, to avenge the Israeli assassination of its leader Abu Ali Mustafa.

Israel's seizure of the grey-haired Saadat followed suggestions by Hamas and Abbas that he might be freed.


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