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Drive-by shooting claims an Israeli motorist

Another Israeli's body is found near northern border

JERUSALEM — An Israeli motorist was killed in a drive-by shooting early Monday and the body of a second Israeli man was found near the northern border in the first political killings of Jews since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came to power.

In another attack, Palestinian militants fired three mortar bombs from the Gaza Strip into Israel, slightly injuring an Israeli soldier at a military base, the army said. Sunday night's attack marked the first time Palestinians had fired into Israel proper — as opposed to Israeli settlements in Gaza — since the fighting began nearly six months ago.

Sharon, who assumed power earlier this month with a pledge to restore security to Israel, was in the United States on Monday, seeking American backing for his policy of keeping peace talks on hold until the violence stops.

Upon his arrival in Washington on Sunday, Sharon said high-level security contacts with the Palestinians had resumed, though they did not constitute a revival of negotiations. "These efforts are very important in lowering the tensions," Sharon said in remarks before the attacks were reported.

But Brig. Gen. Benny Gantz, the Israeli commander in the West Bank, said the Palestinians were not doing enough to stop the violence.

"We would like to have cooperation but I don't believe we will receive it," Gantz said, speaking on the Israeli-controlled bypass road south of Jerusalem where the early morning shooting took place.

The Israeli motorist, identified as 58-year-old Baruch Cohen, a resident of the Jewish West Bank settlement of Efrat, was killed in a drive-by shooting by Palestinian gunmen who fled into the Palestinian-controlled town of Bethlehem, Gantz said. After being shot, the man lost control of his car and hit an oncoming truck.

Jewish settlers have been the targets of shooting attacks on West Bank and Gaza Strip roads since the Israeli-Palestinian fighting broke out in September. To date, 430 people have been killed including 352 Palestinians, 59 Israeli Jews and 19 others.

Along Israel's northern border with Lebanon, the body of Yitzhak Kabartov, the 54-year-old head of security at Kibbutz Manara, was found in a river bed near the kibbutz. Israeli security officials said the killing appeared to be politically motivated.

Kabartov had been missing since Thursday and kibbutz members also discovered that 60 automatic rifles had been stolen from a warehouse. Security officials suspect that Palestinians may seized Karbartrov, forced him to open the warehouse, and then killed him.

Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the latest violence "looks like a new game which is very worrying and it may bring an escalation. It serves no purpose, it will lead nowhere."

In wake of the drive-by shooting, Jewish settler leaders called on Sharon to keep Palestinian towns and cities under a blockade.

The blockades, imposed to keep would-be attackers out of Israel, had been lifted recently in a number of villages and towns in the West Bank, including Bethlehem.

Following the shooting, the army re-imposed its closure on Bethlehem. Dirt barriers were erected to block Palestinians from using backroads out of town.