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SLUG: 2-291535 Israel / Palestinians (L Update)








/// UPDATES CR 2-291522, BY ROSS DUNN ///

INTRO: The Israeli army has smashed through the wall of the battered Palestinian Authority headquarters in Hebron in an unsuccessful search for 15 Palestinian militants thought to be inside. V-O-A's Larry James in Jerusalem reports a former Palestinian official who entered the building said he found no one in the sections he had access to.

TEXT: Talal Sidr, a former Palestinian Authority cabinet member, told reporters after his visit that he could not find the militants but he said they could be in other parts of the heavily damaged building.

He also said he was not acting on behalf of the Palestinian Authority when Israeli soldiers allowed him to enter the building.

Israeli soldiers have been issuing regular demands to the militants to surrender since they surrounded the compound four days ago.

Israeli officials say they have arrested nearly 20 militants from among the more than 130 who have emerged from the building since the siege began Tuesday.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also issued a statement Friday calling on world leaders to urge an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.

Israeli military officials, meanwhile, have lifted a ban on foreign journalists entering major West Bank towns that its soldiers have taken over in the past 10 days. A ban on all journalists remains in effect in Hebron, where the standoff outside the Palestinian Authority office is continuing.

Meanwhile, a photo that is said to show a Palestinian baby outfitted as a suicide bomber has caused a furor. The picture, which was released by the Israeli army and appeared in a number of Israeli newspapers, showed an infant wrapped in ammunition belts with what appeared to explosives strapped around his waist.

The army said the picture was found Tuesday in the family album of a wanted Hamas militant during a search of his home. The authenticity of the picture could not be determined.


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