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Israel troops kill Gaza youth after Bush UN speech
( 2003-09-24 16:59) (Agencies)

Israeli troops killed a Palestinian youth in a raid in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, hours after President Bush singled out Yasser Arafat's leadership for condemnation at the United Nations.

Witnesses said the unarmed 15-year-old was killed by a tank shell. Israeli forces also wounded 11 people, including gunmen who fired on soldiers who entered the Rafah refugee camp in the latest violence to batter a stalled U.S.-backed peace plan.

In Bush's U.N. address on Tuesday, he said the Palestinian cause was being "betrayed by leaders who cling to power by feeding old hatreds," an apparent reference to Arafat whom the United States has sought to sideline.

"The Palestinian people deserve their own state and they will gain that state by embracing new leaders committed to reform, to fighting terror and to building peace," Bush told world leaders, echoing comments he has made in the past.

But French President Jacques Chirac, also attending the General Assembly meeting in New York, said Arafat remained the only one who could impose a peace deal on Palestinians.

"The fact remains that he is the authority, he is the elected, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. You can't change that fact," Chirac told reporters after meeting with Bush and failing to bridge differences over post-war Iraq.


Palestinian Labour Minister Ghassan Khatib called Bush's remarks unconstructive and said it would only spur Israel to hold a hard line against the Palestinians.

"It does not serve the cause of democracy when President Bush does not distinguish between a president who 'clings to power' through elections and one who does so by other methods," Khatib said. Palestinians elected Arafat president in 1996.

"The hatreds President Bush is speaking about are a result of the occupation and Israeli violence," he told Reuters.

A senior Israeli political source welcomed Bush's comments, saying: "Without mentioning the name, he pointed at the major critical obstacle to the Palestinians realizing their aspirations."

The United States and Israel accuse Arafat -- the longtime symbol of Palestinian nationalism -- of fomenting violence in a three-year-old Palestinian uprising for statehood, an allegation he denies.

After Palestinian suicide bombings killed 15 Israelis two weeks ago, Israel issued an open-ended threat to "remove" Arafat, and the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at blocking his possible expulsion.

In the southern Gaza Strip, 15 Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers moved into Rafah on the Egyptian border, a militant stronghold and frequent flashpoint, early on Wednesday.

Israeli military sources said it was an operation to search for arms smuggling tunnels and that tanks fired five shells after soldiers came under fire before pulling out.

Palestinians said the Israeli incursion followed Palestinian mortar fire at a Jewish settlement near Rafah.

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