Palestinian attack on Jewish settlement leaves two dead, threatens truce
JERUSALEM (AP) – Palestinian gunmen broke into a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip and opened fire Tuesday, killing two Israelis and wounding 11 in an attack threatening an already shaky Mideast truce.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the attack, saying it constituted a violation of a cease-fire worked out between the sides last week.
The shootings came only hours after President Bush expressed support for a Palestinian state and spoke of efforts to revive Mideast peacemaking – a statement welcomed by Palestinians who want more U.S. involvement.
The gunmen slipped into the Alei Sinai settlement on the northern tip of the Gaza Strip, shooting at several residents and soldiers before entering a home, witnesses said.
Two Israeli teen-agers were killed and 11 more Israelis were injured, two of them babies, the army said. It said three soldiers were among the wounded.
Two of the attackers were killed by troops, said Israeli Cabinet Minister Tzipi Livni. She said another militant was involved but it was not clear what happened to him. Livni dismissed reports that the attackers had held hostages.
Military officials said the residents of one home managed to climb out a window after two militants entered the building in the settlement protected by army outposts and patrols .
About 6,000 Jewish settlers reside in closely guarded enclaves in Gaza, where more than 1 million Palestinians live.
The shootings – claiming the first Israeli lives in eight days – could shake the truce worked out last week. ”This is a very grave incident,” said army spokesman Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz.
The Palestinian Authority denounced the attack, saying Arafat had ordered Palestinian security forces to search for those behind it.
”The Palestinian leadership condemns completely the attack that took place in the Jewish settlement of Alei Sinai and considers it a violation to the cease-fire declared,” a statement said.
The truce was declared last Wednesday, at U.S. urging, but each side charges the other with constant violations. The United Stateshas been looking for calm in the region as it tries to build an anti-terror coalition to respond to the terror attacks of Sept. 11.
Earlier Tuesday, Bush said in Washington that ”the idea of a Palestinian state has always been a part of a vision so long as the right to an Israeli state is respected.”
His administration was planning to introduce a new peace initiative, but it was put on hold by the attacks in the United States. The new peacemaking plan is only now beginning to take shape again, a senior U.S. official said Monday.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat welcomed Bush’s remarks. ”I think it’s time for the American administration to declare its support for a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel,” he said.
An aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that full calm must be restored before full-scale peace negotiations can resume.
Daniel Ayalon, the foreign policy adviser to Sharon, said Israel’s most immediate priority was ending a year of violence. ”Everything will be put off until the violence stops,” he said.
For months, the Palestinians have been calling on the Bush administration to get more involved, saying there was little hope for progress without outside intervention.
Sharon has often said that he would be willing to seek a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinians, but does not believe a final settlement is possible at present. He has raised the possibility of a Palestinian state, but has not detailed his plans.
The Palestinians are seeking a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with east Jerusalem as their future capital.
Peace negotiations – which included the prospect of a Palestinian state – broke down amid the current fighting in January. Sharon was elected in February.
Palestinian security forces on Tuesday arrested Atef Abayyat, a Palestinian militia leader suspected of involvement in the multiple shooting attacks against Israeli targets, including the recent death of an Israeli woman, according to Israel.
Israel has demanded that Palestinian authorities arrest more than 100 people suspected of involvement in the violence, and has named Abayyat as one of those at the top of its list.
Throughout the past year of fighting, the Palestinians have resisted such Israeli demands.
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