Gaza shootout leaves two Palestinians dead, two Israeli soldiers injured

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The Independent Online

Palestinian gunmen fired on an Israeli military jeep patrolling the Gaza Strip, triggering a gun battle that left two Palestinians dead and two Israeli soldiers wounded Saturday, officials said.

Palestinian gunmen fired on an Israeli military jeep patrolling the Gaza Strip, triggering a gun battle that left two Palestinians dead and two Israeli soldiers wounded Saturday, officials said.

The shooting came as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak prepared to fly to Washington for talks with U.S. President Bill Clinton on ways to curb six weeks of Mideast violence.

Palestinians in a civilian car shot at the Israeli jeep at the Gush Katif junction in the southern Gaza Strip, officials from both sides said.

Israeli troops returned fire, killing two Palestinians in a Renault car, according to Khalid Abu Alula, a Palestinian official in the area. The Israeli military said two soldiers received moderate wounds.

Meanwhile, Barak was to leave Saturday evening in advance of Sunday meeting with Clinton at the White House. Israeli leaders have said they do not expect the talks to result in a resumption of peace negotiations, and the focus will be on reducing the violence that has claimed nearly 190 lives, most of them Palestinian.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who met Clinton on Thursday, said he was ready to attend another Middle East peace summit, provided it was well planned and success was guaranteed. The Palestinian leader also appealed to the United Nations Security Council on Friday for the deployment of a peacekeeping force to protect Palestinian civilians.

The Palestinians say the United States, the main mediator, favors Israel, and argue that other nations should be involved in Middle East peacemaking.

Israeli Ambassador Yehuda Lancry said a U.N. force was unacceptable and had not been envisaged in earlier peace accords. U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said the United States would oppose any force as long as Israel rejects it.

The prospect of new peace talks appeared even more distant after senior Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia set tough conditions for their resumption.

In addition to the deployment of an international force, Israel would have to declare a freeze on Jewish settlements, and the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, China, Egypt and Jordan would have to be brought in as mediators. Also, both sides would have to reaffirm that talks are based on U.N. resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from war-won land, he said.

The Palestinians have raised such demands in the past, but never as a requirement for returning to the negotiating table.

"After everything the Israelis have done, it's very clear that this uprising will not stop" until a Palestinian state is set up or conditions are met for a resumption of negotiations, Qureia said.

Five Palestinians and an Israeli soldiers were killed Friday in clashes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which lasted into the night.

Late Friday, Palestinian Raed Mekhsed, 28, was killed when he was caught in a heavy exchange of fire between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Hebron, hospital officials said.

Palestinian reports identified him as the son of Saadi Mekhsed, a senior Palestinian security official who was in the same car at the time of the shooting. In Palestinian areas, rumors spread that Raed Mekhsed was killed in an Israeli attempt to assassinate his father, Israel radio reported.

The army strongly denied the suggestion, saying it only fired to suppress shooting and did not target the Palestinian official.

Also, Palestinian snipers fired Friday on Israeli troops guarding the religious shrine of Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, killing 20-year-old Sgt. Shahar Ukrat.

Four Palestinians, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed in other clashes in Gaza and the West Bank town of Jenin.