BEIT JALLA, West Bank – Israeli tanks and troops withdrew early Thursday from this Palestinian town, ending a two-day takeover after Palestinian gunmen said they would stop firing at a nearby Jewish neighborhood.
The understanding was reached in intense Israeli-Palestinian phone diplomacy, with help from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and European Union officials.
Israeli tanks and jeeps drove out of Beit Jalla just before dawn Thursday. After daybreak, residents gathered in the streets in celebration. Masked gunmen shot in the air, and women clapped and cheered. One gunman in a ski cap had ammunition belts draped across his chest and fired burst from a machine gun.
Also Thursday, an Israeli man sitting in a restaurant in a Palestinian village was killed by a shot to the head by a Palestinian militant, police said. The masked assailant fled, said police spokesman Rafi Yaffe.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops barred a convoy with senior U.N. officials, led by Peter Hansen, commissioner of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, from passing a roadblock. Hansen was on his way to the Rafah refugee camp to inspect homes demolished by Israeli army bulldozers a day earlier.
Israeli troops have been blocking the main access road to Rafah since Wednesday, with a tank parked across it and more armored vehicles positioned nearby. When the five-car U.N. convoy, accompanied by journalists, approached the roadblock Thursday, Israeli troops did not let it pass.
Hansen got out of his vehicle, wearing U.N. uniform and a bulletproof jacket. A soldier atop the tank shouted at him in English: ``Go back immediately, or we are going to shoot.'' The U.N. convoy eventually turned back and Hansen said it would try to reach Rafah on backroads.