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Israelis say man killed was planting a bomb

JERUSALEM — A Palestinian was killed in the Gaza Strip early today by Israeli forces who said he was trying to plant a bomb, a day after a highway bombing in Israel killed one and wounded nine.

The Israeli military said soldiers saw the Palestinian planting a bomb along a main road in the central Gaza Strip, apparently planning to set it off as a military or civilian convoy passed. The soldiers shot and killed the Palestinian.

Relatives identified him as Mustafa Ramlawi, 40, from the Bourej refugee camp. They said he was mentally handicapped.

The shooting and the bombing caught Israel's government in an awkward transition phase.

Ariel Sharon, elected prime minister after taking a tough line toward Palestinian violence, announced that he will present his new government Wednesday, taking office after stitching together a majority coalition among more than a dozen parliament factions.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, buried in a landslide election loss Feb. 6, remains in power.

On Friday, Barak's Labor party chose elder statesman Shimon Peres as foreign minister and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer as defense minister in Sharon's "national unity" government.

Peres was unopposed, while Ben-Eliezer, currently the communications minister, defeated two party rivals.

Ben-Eliezer blamed the Palestinians for the current violence. Interviewed on Israel radio after the voting, Ben-Eliezer said he was a pioneer in peacemaking efforts, but "I regret very much that . . . the Palestinians upended the (negotiating) table . . . and turned to bloodshed."

Sharon's crushing victory was seen by many as repudiation of Barak's policy of far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians for peace.

Sharon has said he would offer them much less and would not resume peace talks until all violence ends.

But it was Barak's lame-duck government that was looking for a response to Thursday's bombing. Peres called for an uncompromising war against terror but warned against collective punishment of ordinary Palestinians.

Thursday's bomb ripped apart a van taxi on a main highway through Israel's north, killing Claude Knafo, 29, a passenger, and wounding nine other people, including a pregnant Israeli woman. Police said one of the wounded was a terrorist who detonated a bomb he was carrying after police stopped the van at a roadblock.

Barak said the suspect, a Palestinian from the area of Jenin in the West Bank, was also implicated in an attempted bombing Wednesday in Tel Aviv. A restaurant owner saw a suspicious bag on the sidewalk and called police, who cleared the area and blew up the bag, which contained a 4.4-pound bomb.