Israeli forces raid jail in West Bank town of Jericho

Israeli forces raided a jail Tuesday in the West Bank town of Jericho, demanding the surrender of six prisoners inside and sparking a shootout with Palestinian police that left one Palestinian officer dead and another man wounded, Palestinian security officials said.

The raid on the jail, which holds prisoners accused of assassinating an Israeli Cabinet minister, was the most high-profile Israeli incursion into a Palestinian town in months and came just two weeks before Israel holds national elections.

The jail had been monitored by U.S. and British observers, but the monitors withdrew just before the raid.

Israeli forces entered the town Tuesday morning and surrounded the prison, demanding over loudspeakers that six prisoners give themselves up. The troops then broke into the jail in a bulldozer and armored personnel carriers, and engaged in a shootout with the Palestinian police, said Akram Rajoub, the local security commander.

One policeman standing near the prison gate was killed in the shootout, security officials said. At least one other man was wounded in the exchange, the officials said.

The prisoners said they would not surrender.

"Our prison is surrounded on all sides by Israelis. They are asking us over loudspeaker to come out," Ahed Abu Ghoulmi, one of the prisoners, told The Associated Press by telephone. "We will not come out under any circumstances."

Among the six targets of the raid is Ahmed Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical PLO faction. Saadat, who was elected to the Palestinian legislature in January, is being held for ordering the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001.

Saadat was being held at the jail, along with four other PFLP members, including the gunman who killed Zeevi, under the supervision of U.S. and British guards. But after Hamas won the Jan. 25 Palestinian parliamentary elections, top leaders of the militant group said they planned to free Saadat, reports the AP.

I.L.