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Israelis kill 2 but only injure target

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JERUSALEM — Israeli helicopters on Thursday fired missiles at a jeep carrying four Palestinian gunmen and killed two, but Israel's declared target, a local militia chief blamed for the deaths of six Israelis, escaped with light injuries.

The missile attack in the West Bank town of Tulkarem came as dovish Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were preparing an agenda for truce talks, possibly to be held next week.

Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said the missile attack was undercutting cease-fire efforts. "It is a crime, a declared murder. This policy has to stop now," Shaath said.

The targeted man, Raed Karmi, was in a jeep driving near the Nur Shams refugee camp on the outskirts of Tulkarem when the first missile hit the ground behind the vehicle, said Karmi's bodyguard and driver, Hazem Kattab.

Karmi, 27, and Kattab jumped out of the vehicle, the witness said. A second and third missile hit the jeep directly, killing the two men in the back, identified as Omar Subuh and Mustafa Unbouth, both 20.

"Unfortunately, we did not achieve our main goal," Gideon Meir, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official, said when it became apparent Karmi had not been killed.

The Israeli army said Karmi has been involved in numerous shooting attacks that have killed six Israelis and wounded several others.

Later Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was to convene his Cabinet for a special debate on a plan to set up a military "buffer zone" in the West Bank that would be off-limits to Palestinians and permit troops to arrest intruders.

The zone would run east of the so-called Green Line, the invisible frontier between Israel and the West Bank, and the objective would be to keep Palestinian militants out of Israel.

However, the Palestinians said Israel was imposing collective punishment. Israeli commentators said the plan would unilaterally alter the status of parts of the West Bank, as laid down in interim peace agreements.

The Israeli army was to have presented the plan at a news conference Wednesday, but Sharon stopped publication at the last minute and instead scheduled a Cabinet debate. He suggested he was delaying, not canceling the plan. "It's a process that is meant to happen in the future," he said.