British peace activist dies in Gaza


MIDDLE EAST: Despite further Israeli-Palestinian violence yesterday, including the shooting in Gaza of a British peace activist, the ancient West Bank city of Jericho is providing a glimmer of hope for a calmer future.

Tom Hurndall(24) was hit in the head by Israeli gunfire as he and other members of the Palestinian-backed International Solidarity Movement were setting up a protest tent in Rafah, at the foot of the Gaza Strip, and was brain-dead on arrival at the local hospital, Palestinian sources said.

An American member of the same movement was killed in Gaza last month and another American was injured last week in Jenin.

Also in Gaza yesterday, the army arrested four alleged Palestinian extremists and badly injured two Palestinians when firing missiles at a building in Khan Younis from which gunfire had been directed at a nearby Jewish settlement.

In Jericho, by contrast, Israeli troops were pulling back, lifting restrictions on travel in and out of the city - the so-called "closure" - for the first time in a year.

The pullback follows quiet negotiations between local Palestinian security officials and their Israeli counterparts, and reflects the fact that Jericho has rarely been a focus of intifada violence.

There has even been vague talk of opening the Palestinian-run Oasis casino on the edge of the city, a major pre-intifada attraction.

Earlier this week, in a display of co-operation unprecedented since this "second intifada" erupted in late 2000, Palestinian security officials handed over to the Israeli army hundreds of kilograms of explosives and dozens of hand-grenades for the Israelis to destroy.

The Palestinian officials had uncovered the weaponry during searches in the city.

The now-collapsed Oslo peace process began in 1994 with an Israeli handover of Jericho and two-thirds of the Gaza Strip to Palestinian control. There is speculation that the incoming Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Mr Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), hopes gradually to regain control of Palestinian territory, retaken by Israel over the past year, by following the "Gaza and Jericho first" model.

Palestinian Authority officials say they are anxious to resume security co-operation with Israel in the Gaza Strip.