HEBRON, West Bank -- A former Palestinian Cabinet minister entered the besieged Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank on Friday to negotiate the surrender of 15 wanted men after a four-day standoff but said he could not find anyone inside.
It was possible, Talal Sidr told The Associated Press, that the men were in parts of the heavily damaged four-story building that he was unable to check.
"I didn't see anyone, but that doesn't mean there is no one inside because there are places that are heavily damaged that I couldn't enter," he said, shortly after his visit of less than an hour inside the building in Hebron.
The Israeli army had no immediate comment.
With Israeli troops controlling seven of the eight main West Bank cities and towns, the Palestinian leadership issued a statement on Friday condemning the Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas as "an attempt to sabotage peace efforts."
The statement, quoted by the Palestinian Wafa news agency, appealed to the world leaders attending the G-8 summit in Canada to "send observers to the region to ensure implementation of a cease-fire."
At the hilltop Hebron building, where the regional Palestinian administration is housed, television showed a bulldozer knocking through the wall at the ground level of the fortress-like building. Friday was the fourth day of the Israeli siege of the building.
A day earlier, Israeli helicopters fired four missiles at the structure. Soldiers outside warned that they would go in and extract the gunmen if they did not give themselves up.
"I think they have to surrender and give up," Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said on Friday. "There is no sense for them to fight."
Sidr, who is from Hebron, said he went in with Israeli permission after discussing the matter with Israeli authorities. He said that after his look around he suggested to the Israelis they end the siege and check inside the building.
Tanks had been firing at the building, and explosions were heard every few minutes at the compound, witnesses said.
The military said about 15 Palestinians wanted by Israel as terrorism suspects were believed holed up inside the squat, unadorned building, which was first used by the British army and handed over, in turn, to Jordan, Israel and then the Palestinians.
"We know that a few wanted persons are inside and we intend to apprehend them," army spokesman Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey told Israel Army Radio. "We prefer to do it without a battle, but if it proves necessary, there will be one."
Late Thursday the Israeli military said in a statement that soldiers in the West Bank town of Qalqilya "opened fire" on a group of people who were outside despite the curfew, wounding three children, one seriously. Palestinians said the seriously wounded child was a 9-year-old boy who was shot in the head and in critical condition.
"The preliminary investigation shows that the soldiers acted improperly, and the army expresses its regret. The investigation continues," the statement said.
The incident was apparently a tragic misunderstanding. Palestinian high school seniors are taking standardized final exams this week, and in many places the Israeli military is lifting the curfew to allow them to get to their schools. Israeli Civil Administration spokesman Maj. Peter Lerner confirmed that the intention was to lift the curfew for students in Qalqiliya.
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