Palestinian gunman kills 2 Israelis at checkpoint

Relative lull is broken amid hope for peace talks

November 19, 2003|By COX NEWS SERVICE

JERUSALEM - In the first deadly attack on Israelis in more than three weeks, a Palestinian concealing an assault rifle in a prayer rug walked to a checkpoint yesterday and killed two Israeli soldiers at close range.

The incident came a day after Israeli and Palestinian leaders expressed hope that peace talks could resume soon.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces entered the Rafah refugee camp, sparking a shootout with Palestinians. At least eight Palestinians were injured. Israeli bulldozers destroyed a number of Palestinian houses at the border between Gaza and Egypt.

Egyptian mediators were to meet today in Gaza with representatives from Palestinian militant groups in hopes of reaching a cease-fire agreement to halt attacks on Israelis. The agreement could then be used as a sign of good faith to encourage the Israelis to agree to a cease-fire and revive talks on the U.S.-sponsored peace plan.

However, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said yesterday during a meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in Brussels, Belgium, that a cease-fire by Palestinian militant groups is not enough. He repeated Israel's demand that Palestinian authorities dismantle the militant organizations.

A meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the new Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, could take place within days. It would be their first meeting since Qureia was sworn in last month.

The shooting of the Israeli soldiers took place about 5:45 a.m. at the Tunnels Road checkpoint near Bethlehem. According to the Israeli military, the gunman walked to the checkpoint, dropped the prayer rug and shot the two soldiers, then ran away.

Israeli forces entered Bethlehem to search for the suspect and imposed a curfew. They pulled out later in the day to positions surrounding the city.

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