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Gunman kills 3 Israelis in Gaza settlement
( 2003-10-24 14:08) (Agencies)

A Palestinian gunman killed three Israelis and wounded two others early Friday after infiltrating a Jewish settlement in Gaza, Israeli officials said. The attack came as Israel disclosed that a security barrier being built along the West Bank could become a unilaterally imposed border annexing the strategic Jordan River Valley to Israel.

Palestinians and paramedics carry the body of Bader Mosa who was killed in an explosion in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Oct. 23 , 2003.  [AP]

In the Gaza attack, military officials said the infiltrators crossed the exterior fence at Netazarim settlement and opened fire. They did not enter the settlement itself, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Two of the dead were women and the other a man, Israel Radio reported, and the seriously wounded Israeli is a woman.

Soldiers searching for the Palestinians shot and killed one, the officials said, and were looking for another. Israel Radio said dense fog hampered the search.

No group claimed of responsibility for the violence in Netzarim, a heavily guarded settlement southwest of Gaza City and the focus of other infiltration attempts. About 7,000 Israelis live in Jewish settlements in Gaza, amid about 1 million Palestinians.

In an earlier attack, three Israelis were wounded by a Palestinian gunman in the Gaza area late Thursday, according to settlers and rescue services. The attacker was killed. The militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for that attack.

The Gaza Strip is surrounded by a security fence, which has prevented most attempted infiltrations from Gaza into Israel.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the United States, indicates how close he has seen peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians come before failing in the past, while conducting a rare news conference at Tufts University's Fletcher School in Medford, Massachusetts, Oct. 23, 2003.   [Reuters]
Separately, a senior Israeli official said the Jordan River Valley, at the eastern edge of the West Bank, must remain under Israeli security control, and the plan for a fence that would cut the valley off from the rest of West Bank has been approved. However, no funds have yet been allocated for its construction, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Up to now, most attention has been focused on the other side of the West Bank, where Israel has completed the first section of the barrier and has approved the route for the rest.

Also Thursday, Israel disclosed plans to build nearly 300 homes in West Bank settlements, despite a freeze on construction required by a U.S.-backed peace plan. Palestinians condemned the project and urged the United States to intervene.

The construction of 273 apartments in West Bank settlements was disclosed by Israel's Housing Ministry, which published an Israeli newspaper ad inviting contractors to bid on them. The apartments are slated for Karnei Shomron, a settlement deep in the northern West Bank, and Givat Zeev, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

The U.S.-backed "road map" plan requires a freeze on construction in the roughly 150 Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinians hope to establish an independent state in the two territories, which Israel captured during the 1967 Middle East war.

The Palestinians also have not implemented road map obligations mainly that they disarm and dismantle militant groups and the plan is stalled, with each side blaming the other, violence continuing and contacts almost entirely cut off.

A Palestinian man walks next to a new section of the wall Israel is building between Israel and the Palestinian territories near the Palestinian West Bank village of Masha Oct. 23, 2003.  [AP]
The construction "is a reflection that this Israeli government has chosen the path of settlements and dictation rather than peace and negotiation," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator. "We urge the Bush administration to stop this policy, because this is obstacle No. 1 to peace."

Asked about the new settlement activity, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said in Washington, "We have made our policy clear, which is that, under the road map, Israel has made a commitment to stop settlement activity. Sticking to that commitment is important."

The Israeli government says it needs the new buildings because of the "natural growth" of the settlements. However, the "road map" does not take that into account in its blanket building freeze.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said all the units were in existing communities and did not involve the confiscation of Palestinian land.

The more than 220,000 settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza provide a strong base of support for Sharon's government, and a settlement freeze poses political difficulties. The housing minister, Effi Eitam, is a hard-line advocate of the settlers.

An associate of Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, said the Palestinian leader was unnerved by an army raid near his compound this week, and clenched a submachine gun while declaring he felt the "smell of paradise."

Israel has said it would "remove" Arafat at an unspecified time, but has not explained whether this means expulsion or assassination. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said this week that Arafat is the major obstacle to peace, but in an earlier newspaper interview backtracked from threats to expel the Palestinian leader.

The Arafat aide said the Palestinian leader was jittery as Israeli forces surrounded a mosque about a half-mile from his Ramallah headquarters.

Arafat, who has been confined to his compound in the West Bank town for nearly two years, feared Israeli troops might come after him, the aide said, declining to be identified. Arafat, who was holding a submachine gun in addition to his pistol, closed windows and shouted orders at his guards to take up positions.

Arafat insisted he would not be taken alive if the Israelis try to expel him.

"I feel the smell of paradise," Arafat reportedly said.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, masked Palestinian gunmen killed two Palestinians accused of being informants for Israel and displayed their bodies in the central square of the Tulkarem refugee camp.

Israeli intelligence makes frequent use of Palestinian informants to target wanted Palestinians, and dozens of suspected collaborators have been killed by fellow Palestinians during three years of violence.

An Israeli military court, meanwhile, sentenced a 23-year-old Palestinian woman to 320 years in prison for helping plan and carry out an August 2001 suicide bombing at a Jerusalem pizzeria that killed 15 people, including two Americans.

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