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Israelis clamor for war as tanks open fire

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JERUSALEM — Under pressure to hit back harder in response to Palestinian violence, Israeli tanks shelled Palestinian police positions near Ramallah early today after a teenager from a Jewish settlement was shot and killed.

The council of Jewish settlers called on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to scrap a cease-fire with the Palestinians, and a poll taken before the fatal shooting showed many Israelis favoring an all-out assault on the Palestinians.

At the same time, Israel and the United States were exchanging ideas about an observer force to help stabilize the volatile situation, an Israeli official said.

Ronen Landau, 17, was killed in the shooting Thursday near Givat Zeev, the settlement where he lived, 2.5 miles north of Jerusalem. In response, Israeli tanks shelled three Palestinian police posts near Ramallah.

But many Israelis have begun clamoring for tougher action after 10 months of violence.

After the Thursday shooting, the Jewish settlers council called for an end to the "imaginary and bleeding" cease-fire, a reference to a truce negotiated last month by CIA director George Tenet. The truce never fully took hold.

A poll in the Maariv daily on Friday showed that 46 percent of Israelis favor large-scale retaliation against the Palestinians, including attacks on leaders and infrastructure, while 30 percent approve of the current policy of avoiding large-scale military operations. The poll, conducted before the latest fatal shooting, questioned 600 Israelis and quoted a 4.5 percent margin of error.

Israeli officials charged that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was responsible for the violence, including the attack Thursday, apparently a roadside ambush.

Cabinet minister Dan Naveh said he was driving on the same highway shortly before the shooting. "Here we have another murderous attack," he told Israel television. "This shows Arafat's true face as a terrorist."

David Baker, a spokesman in Sharon's office, said the attack showed that "the Palestinians have decided to continue with this trail of terror directed at Israel."

As violence continues, the United States and Israel are informally discussing the makeup of an observer force that would be sent to the area to supervise a cease-fire, said Raanan Gissin, an aide to Sharon. Palestinians have been demanding an international force. Israel has said it would agree to an increased role for the CIA.

Israeli media published widely varying reports about the force taking shape. Some said it would be made up of CIA agents, while others wrote that State Department officials would take part. Gissin said all these are among the ideas the Americans are considering.

Gissin said no formal proposal has been made, and "we would have to agree to any observer force."

In Washington, a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that a force is being put together. He said there is no agreement on the posting of observers.

Since fighting began on Sept. 28, 533 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 133 on the Israeli side.

Also Thursday, thousands of Palestinians called for suicide bomb attacks against Israel as they accompanied the body of a senior Hamas activist in a noisy funeral procession in the West Bank city of Nablus. The militant, Saleh Darwazeh, was killed Wednesday when Israeli forces hit his car with five anti-tank missiles.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres warned that two or three more suicide bombings could trigger a response that could bring about the collapse of Arafat's Palestinian Authority, a development Peres strongly opposes.

So far Sharon, whose base of political support comes from the hard-liners demanding tougher measures, has resisted the pressure. But he has allowed smaller operations such as the targeted killing of militants.

In Gaza, a fire-fight erupted after two Palestinians were killed Friday in a dispute with other Palestinians in the city of Khan Younis, security officials said. Relatives of the suspects opened fire on security forces, wounding 10.