Killings overshadow Israeli-Palestinian peace talks


Two Israelis and a Palestinian were killed on Tuesday in separate attacks that cast a shadow over planned U.S.-mediated security talks intended to end eight months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, visiting Moscow one day after meeting a new U.S. Middle East envoy, said urgent measures were needed to prevent “an explosion across the region”.

A round of U.S. shuttle diplomacy yielded agreement by the two sides to hold their first security talks since late April later on Tuesday night, offering a glimmer of hope that the two sides may be moving towards ending the bloodshed.

Moscow said it and Washington were united on ways to end the violence and that President Vladimir Putin also discussed peace prospects with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon by telephone.

But violence flared in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — the epicenters of a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation — just hours before the meeting was due to begin.

Israel’s army said Palestinians fired at a 41-year-old settler’s car on a road near the Palestinian-ruled city of Nablus, and then moved in and shot him at close range.

Later on Tuesday, Israeli gunmen killed a 20-year-old Palestinian and wounded three other civilians near an Israeli army checkpoint in the city of Jericho, a senior Palestinian security official said.

Haj Ismail Jaber, commander of Palestinian national forces in the West Bank, said he believed the shooting was carried out by an undercover unit. The army did not immediately comment.

In a separate incident, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an Israeli vehicle near the Jewish settlement of Neveh Daniel in the West Bank, killing one woman, witnesses and rescue officials said. Four other people were wounded, one of them seriously.

In fresh violence in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian police said five policemen were wounded when Israeli tanks fired three shells at their post from the Jewish settlement of Netzarim.

“There was no justification or apparent reason for the Israeli assault,” a police spokesman said. He said bulldozers later entered Palestinian-controlled areas to raze orchards.

The army said Palestinians had planted a bomb near an army post near Netzarim. Troops fired at them in response and detonated the bomb, it said.

Several dozen Jewish settlers attacked Palestinians in the divided West Bank town on Tuesday, with one woman snatching stones from a baby carriage and hurling them at her Arab neighbors, witnesses said.

No injuries were reported, but Israeli police said two Israelis and one Palestinian were arrested in the melee.