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The Israeli-appointed mayor of the West Bank town of El-Bireh was stabbed in the chest Tuesday in an apparent assassination attempt by Palestinian militants.

The stabbing of Hassan Tawil, in his 70s, follows repeated demands by underground leaders of the 6-month-old Palestinian uprising that he and other Israeli-appointed officials resign their jobs in the occupied West Bank. Tawil was taken to nearby Ramallah Hospital, where officials said he was in stable condition after surgery.He was stabbed once with a "very long knife" that pierced his heart, diaphragm, liver and stomach, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Brig. Gen. Shaike Erez, head of the military government in the West Bank, said Tawil was attacked near the city hall in El-Bireh, a town of mostly Moslems about nine miles north of Jerusalem.

Shortly after the stabbing, Associated Press photographer Martin Cleaver saw Tawil lying slumped against a shuttered store front. He was surrounded by Israeli troops.

Tawil appeared ashen-faced and had a large, bloody stab wound on the left side of his chest, which was partially covered with a bandage.

Cleaver said four soldiers commandeered an Arab vehicle, climbed inside with Tawil and rushed him to the hospital.

"The mayor left his office without his bodyguard. Almost at the threshhold he was stabbed," Police Minister Chaim Bar-Lev told reporters at the stabbing scene.

Hussein Tawil, a son of the mayor, said a driver who also acted as a guard was with his father at the time of the attack. He said the man was being questioned by police. However, Bar-Lev said the mayor was alone.

Three Israeli soldiers guarded Tawil's room at Ramallah Hospital and prevented even family members from entering.

When Hussein Tawil appeared, he said, "Let me in. I want to see my father." But soldiers pushed him away.

Two army jeeps were parked outside the hospital and about 20 soldiers surrounded the building.

The army set up roadblocks and imposed a curfew on El-Bireh, confining the 10,000 residents to their homes.

Yusef Taher, one of four members of the El-Bireh city council, blamed the attack on Palestinian militants and said, "I had hoped we would not descend to the level of assassination."

Israel army radio said it received an anonymous telephone call from a Hebrew-speaking man who took responsibility for the stabbing but did not identify any group as having carried out the attack.

The radio quoted him as saying: "We are sick of the stone throwers. That's why we did it," implying the attackers were Jewish extremists.

But both diplomatic sources and Palestinian journalists discounted the call, saying the attack was more likely the work of Palestinian militants.

On Monday, Israeli troops opened fire at rioting Arabs in the occupied Gaza Strip hours after Richard Shifter, U.S. assistant secretary of state for human rights, toured the area with U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering. A 9-month-old Palestinian child lost an eye in the shooting.

Three other Arabs were injured Monday in protests in the strip's Jabaliya refugee camp. In the West Bank, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was wounded when troops chased stone-throwers.