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Agreements met with violence

Israelis and Palestinians hold security talks into the early morning, but elsewhere a Palestinian is killed and militants vow to carry on.

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 15, 2003

JERUSALEM - Israel offered to withdraw troops from parts of the Gaza Strip and the Palestinians expressed readiness to take control of security as the two sides held new talks Saturday to patch up a U.S.-backed peace plan.

But hours later, Israeli forces entering a Gaza town killed a Palestinian.

Meanwhile, the first contingent of U.S. monitors who were to supervise implementation of the "road map" peace plan - a team of 10 to 15 officials headed by John Wolf, an assistant secretary of state - headed to the region Saturday.

Renewed violence, including a Jerusalem bus bombing by the militant Hamas group and a string of Israeli helicopter raids in Gaza, has claimed 62 lives since the June 4 launch of the road map, which envisions an end to 32 months of violence and the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

Early today, Israeli forces entered the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, setting off an exchange of gunfire, Palestinians said. One Palestinian was killed and seven wounded, doctors said. Palestinians said he was a local commander of the violent Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade and soldiers targeted him.

Israeli military sources said soldiers looking for rocket launchers were fired at and shot back. For several weeks, Israel has been in control of the Beit Hanoun area, next to the border fence, trying to prevent Palestinians from firing rockets at Israeli towns.

Despite the worsening situation, behind-the-scenes meetings were continuing.

A high-level delegation of Egyptian security officials planned to arrive in Gaza today to meet with Hamas officials to discuss an end to attacks.

However, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who broke off cease-fire talks with the Palestinian leadership a week ago, said Saturday they had no plans to halt attacks on Israel.

"The word cease-fire is not in our dictionary," said Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a hardline Hamas leader. "Resistance will continue until we uproot them from our homeland."

Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan met Saturday night with Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official, at the home of the U.S. ambassador, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on its Web site. The purpose was to discuss an Israeli proposal to withdraw from parts of the Gaza Strip to positions held before the outbreak of fighting in September 2000.

The meeting ended after midnight, Israel Radio reported. No details of the talks were released.

It was the first security meeting since the road map was launched by President Bush and the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers in a Jordan summit on June 4.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said that under the latest U.S. proposal, Israel would withdraw from large areas of Gaza and two West Bank cities. The two sides would also make a new cease-fire declaration, Abed Rabbo said.

Israel has repeatedly offered to withdraw from areas it reoccupied in the past 32 months, provided the Palestinians assumed security control.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has said his security forces, badly damaged in Israeli attacks, were not yet prepared for the task, and he wanted to first negotiate agreements with militants on ending attacks against Israelis.

But overnight, the Palestinian leadership met to discuss the pullback and decided it was "ready to take security responsibility in every area the Israelis show willingness to withdraw from," Information Minister Nabil Amr said.

Violence continued Saturday as Israeli troops shot and killed a 19-year-old Palestinian man, Khaled Saker, when they fired at a group of people throwing stones at them in the Askar refugee camp near Nablus in the West Bank, according to Palestinian hospital officials. Israeli Army officials did not immediately comment.

In Gaza, Israeli forces demolished seven houses and five orange groves in the Rafah area. In recent days, militants had launched mortars from that area at Israeli targets.

The Israeli army said it thwarted a planned suicide attack Saturday and arrested a wanted Palestinian in the West Bank city of Tulkarem. Troops discovered two suicide belts and exploded them, the army said.

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