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Israeli, 2 Palestinians killed — triggering new gunbattles

SHARE Israeli, 2 Palestinians killed — triggering new gunbattles

JERUSALEM — A car explosion blamed on Israel killed a suspected Islamic militant Friday, and Palestinian gunmen shot dead a Jewish settler in a West Bank road ambush. Each killing triggered a gunbattle, including Israeli tank fire.

Also Friday, a Palestinian was killed by Israeli army fire after he threw a grenade at soldiers defusing a bomb in the Gaza Strip, the military said. The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attempted attack.

The violence was part of a steady escalation in fighting that persisted in recent days despite a U.S.-brokered truce declared a months ago.

The latest chain of events began just before midnight Thursday when members of the city council of Kiryat Arba, a Jewish settlement next to Hebron, toured the scene of an earlier Palestinian shooting attack in which an Israeli motorist was critically wounded.

While the council members were standing by the roadside, on the outskirts of Palestinian-controlled Hebron, shots were fired at them. Council member Hezi Mualem was killed by a shot in the back, and a second man was wounded.

The shooting attack set off a fierce gun battle that lasted into early Friday. Twenty-three Palestinians were wounded. Witnesses said Israeli tanks shelled Palestinian buildings.

On Friday afternoon, Fawaz Badran, a member of the military wing of the Islamic militant group Hamas, was killed in the West Bank town of Tulkarem when a car parked outside his electronics store exploded, Palestinian officials said. Badran, 27, was opening the door to his store when the blast went off.

After the explosion, Palestinians fired at an Israeli army post near Tulkarem, drawing return fire, including tank shells. No one was injured in the exchange, witnesses said.

A Hamas leader in Tulkarem, Abbas Al-Said, accused Israel of having planted the explosives in the car. Israel radio said Badran was on a list of militants Israel had handed to the Palestinian Authority, with the demand they be arrested.

There was no immediate Israeli comment. Palestinians have accused Israel of having killed more than two dozen suspected militants in pinpointed attacks. Israel has acknowledged some of the killings, and said it is acting in self-defense.

However, Israel's policy has been criticized by the United States and leading European nations.

In Rome, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned that Israel's military response would escalate at the pace of the Palestinian attacks. After meeting Italian leaders, he said his security Cabinet had approved a number of steps. "I estimate that a certain amount of time will pass and we will carry them out," he said.

Sharon's son, Omri, met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Thursday night. Israel radio said he repeated Israel's demand for a total cessation of violence. Palestinian officials confirmed that the meeting took place but gave no details.

Since fighting erupted Sept. 28, 516 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 125 on the Israeli side.

Meeting late Thursday, the Palestinian Cabinet charged Israel with aggression and said that the Palestinians are fully committed to a cease-fire plan worked out last month by CIA director George Tenet.

Israel's outgoing ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, said Arafat is not doing enough to stop violence. Indyk urged his audience not to listen to Israelis calling for Arafat's overthrow. Indyk warned that Arafat would be replaced by radicals from the militant Islamic Hamas or the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

"It is possible to get him to stop the violence," Indyk said. "It requires a combination of Israeli restraint, international pressure led by the United States, the threat of terrible consequences if he doesn't and the promise of a credible political process to redress Palestinian concerns if he does."

However, alternate scenarios are playing prominently in the Israeli idea area. Settlers are calling for all-out war against Arafat's forces, and some moderates, despairing of peace possibilities, are calling for Israel to draw its own border, separating Israeli from the Palestinians, giving up much of the West Bank and Gaza.

Indyk warned that unilateral separation is the "antithesis of the peace process." While the basis of the negotiations is exchanging Israeli-held land for peace and security, unilateral separation plans mean "giving up territory for nothing," he said.