Palestinians threaten revenge after Israelis fatally shoot 3 teens

Abbas says incident violates February truce

April 10, 2005|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - Three Palestinian teens were shot dead by Israeli troops yesterday in the southern Gaza Strip, ending weeks of quiet and threatening a renewal of tit-for-tat violence.

The shooting incident strained a month-old agreement by Palestinian militant groups to observe a conditional calm for the rest of the year. Hamas representatives in Gaza promised to retaliate for the shooting, which occurred in the Rafah refugee camp, a zone of frequent clashes near the Egyptian border. Islamic Jihad leaders said the group would observe calm but weigh future moves.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the shooting a violation of a truce agreed to in February by the Israelis and the Palestinian leadership.

Palestinian witnesses and officials said the boys - ages 14, 15 and 16, according to hospital officials - were playing soccer near the border fence when they chased the ball and were struck by Israeli gunfire. Children often play near the fenced-off border.

Israeli military officials said the troops opened fire after five youths were spotted crawling toward the border across a no-go zone. The three boys who were hit ignored warning shots after they got up and ran toward the border, the army said.

Israeli military sources said the two others were arrested by Palestinian authorities and told them that the group had been headed to Egypt to smuggle weapons into Gaza. Israel says Rafah is a hotbed for arms smuggling: a week earlier Israeli soldiers arrested a group of youths sneaking into the same area with hundreds of rifles.

Within four hours of the shooting, Palestinians fighters had launched more than two dozen mortars and rockets at Jewish settlements in the southern Gaza Strip. No injuries were reported. Palestinians said Israeli gunfire wounded seven people in Khan Younis.

The shootings marked the region's deadliest single incident since a bombing Feb. 25 outside a Tel Aviv club killed five Israelis. Violence has all but ceased since Palestinian militants announced March 17 that they would hold their fire against Israel on a conditional basis.

That came after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Abbas declared at a summit Feb. 8 that each side would cease violence in an effort to kick-start the peace process, buoying hopes for an end to more than 4 1/2 years of bloodshed.

Tensions have risen in recent days over plans for a protest rally by Jewish hard-liners today on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's walled Old City. The demonstration was called to protest Sharon's plan for an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip during the summer.

The hilltop site, which is holy to Jews and Muslims, has been a flashpoint for violence. A visit in 2000 by Sharon, who was the opposition leader at the time, sparked rioting that triggered the latest conflict.

Concerned about possible violence, Israeli officials have barred Jews from visiting the site and announced a stepped-up police presence to prevent the rally.

Palestinian militant groups threatened to resume attacks if the rally takes place at the site, which contains Al Aqsa mosque complex. On Friday, thousands of Palestinians marched in the Gaza Strip to protest the planned Temple Mount gathering.

Yesterday's shooting took place as Sharon prepared to leave for a visit with President Bush at the president's Texas ranch. Sharon and Abbas want calm in order to allow Israel to carry out its planned withdrawal from all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four others in the northern West Bank.

Bush strongly supports the pullout as a way to renew peace efforts under terms of the U.S.-backed diplomatic plan known as the road map.

Confronting Bush and Sharon is a disagreement over Israel's plan to expand a major settlement bloc near Jerusalem called Maale Adumim. The Bush administration insists that Israel freeze settlement expansion as part of its commitments under the road map. Israeli leaders consider Maale Adumim part of Israel.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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