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Palestinian attacks West Bank settlement
Updated: 2004-04-03 15:41

A Palestinian gunman broke into an Israeli settlement early Saturday, killing an Israeli man and wounding his 12-year-old daughter in their home, the army said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on the Avnei Hefetz settlement near the Palestinian town of Tulkarem. Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly targeted isolated settlements, particularly during the Jewish Sabbath when more residents are at home.

The Israeli military said that since the outbreak of fighting in September 2000, 25 settlements have been attacked during the Sabbath and holidays, with 41 Israelis killed and more than 60 hurt.

In Saturday's attack, the gunman broke into a home and opened fire, slightly injuring a 12-year-old girl, the army said. When the girl's father emerged, armed with a pistol, the attacker shot him to death. Troops searching the settlement found the gunman and killed him, the army said.

Also Saturday, the Israeli military arrested 23 wanted Palestinians in a large-scale arrest raid in the West Bank city of Nablus. Witnesses said more than 70 jeeps drove into the city before dawn, and that soldiers ordered people out of homes during the raid.

In the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian man was killed near the border fence with Israel on Friday evening, the army said. An army patrol spotted three suspicious figures near the fence, and opened fire, killing one, the military said. Palestinian police confirmed the incident, and said soldiers fired tank shells at the group. A Palestinian wounded in the incident was evacuated by ambulance.

Palestinian police said a second Palestinian was killed by army fire in Gaza late Friday, but the army said it had no report of a second death.

The violence came after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon revealed the scope of his withdrawal plan, saying Israel will pull out from all of Gaza and evict several hundred Jewish settlers from four small West Bank enclaves by next year.

Also Friday, Israeli riot police stormed a disputed holy site in Jerusalem's walled Old City, firing plastic bullets, stun grenades and canisters of tear gas to break up crowds of youths hurling stones and shoes at them. Thousands of Muslim worshippers barricaded themselves in two mosques in the elevated compound for two hours before police let them leave.

The clash was the most violent at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound since deadly riots there in September 2000 led to the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has lasted 3 1/2 years.

The quick and overwhelming police response at the Jerusalem holy site _ along with new Israeli threats against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat _ appeared to be part of an overall message that an Israeli pullback from Palestinian areas would not mean surrender.

Sharon detailed his proposed withdrawal in interviews with three Israeli newspapers Friday. He also commented on allegations that he's accepted bribes, saying, ``My hands are clean.'' Israel's chief prosecutor has recommended he be indicted, but a final decision is up to the attorney general, who is expected to rule by the end of May.

Critics of his proposed pullout say the prime minister is using the plan to try to deflect any possibility that he might be brought to trial in the bribery scandal. Sharon, they say, is trying to create an atmosphere of national crisis in which it becomes increasingly difficult for an indictment.

In the lead-up to a withdrawal from Gaza, Sharon said he would order a freeze on construction in the coastal strip's 21 Jewish settlements, all of which would be removed under the plan. Initially, Sharon considered holding onto three of the enclaves in northern Gaza.

For the first time, Sharon named four isolated enclaves to be dismantled in the northern West Bank: Ganim, Kadim, Homesh and Sanur. A Sharon spokesman, Raanan Gissin, confirmed those comments, which were published in the Maariv daily.

Sharon said the withdrawal from Gaza would get under way within a year and that the only land Israel would continue to hold there would be a patrol road along the territory's border with Egypt that the military says is crucial for combating weapons smuggling.

The Israeli leader's Likud Party is to make a final decision on the proposal. Its 200,000 members are divided and will vote in a binding referendum after Sharon returns from an April 14 meeting with US President George W. Bush.

Sharon's interviews with the Maariv, Yediot Ahronot and Haaretz dailies, given ahead of next week's Passover holiday, were seen as the opening of his campaign for the withdrawal plan.

``We need to get out of Gaza, not to be responsible anymore for what happens there,'' Sharon told Maariv. ``I hope that by next Passover we will be in the midst of disengagement, because disengagement is good for Israel.''

After a pullback from parts of the West Bank, Israel would draw a border of its choosing with the territory.

For nearly two years already, Israel has been building a massive barrier to seal off the West Bank. Sharon told Haaretz that once it's finished, Palestinians living illegally in Israel _ who he said numbered in the tens of thousands _ will be expelled.

Arafat's aides said Friday they are taking new Israeli threats against the Palestinian leader's life seriously. Last month, Israel assassinated Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin, a line few had expected Israel to cross.

It was not immediately clear if Sharon's remarks meant he would no longer honor assurances to US officials that Israel would not harm Arafat.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said, ``Our position on such questions _ the exile or assassination of Yasser Arafat _ is very well known. We are opposed and we have made that very clear to the government of Israel.''

Sharon has repeatedly accused Arafat of involvement in attacks on Israelis, saying he encourages and finances militants. In September, Israel's Cabinet decided that Arafat should be ``removed'' _ an intentionally vague statement that could mean he would be expelled or killed.

With such threats and several military raids, Israel has kept Arafat confined to his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah for more than two years.

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