Israel says Palestinian militant killed by own bomb

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The Israeli army said Monday that a Palestinian militant and his two children were killed by a bomb the man was preparing in his yard, not by an Israeli missile, as the Palestinians alleged. At the man's home, there were no signs of a missile hit.

In Jerusalem, Israeli bulldozers demolished two Arab­owned homes with 10 apartments under construction, on grounds the owners had no building permits. Palestinians say it is virtually impossible to obtain building permits in the traditionally Arab sector of the city, where they say Israel tries to limit Arab population growth.

Meir Margalit, a dovish member of the Jerusalem city council, said 40 more Arab­owned homes in east Jerusalem were under threat of demolition. Israel has said it is even­handed in enforcing building codes throughout the city.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, meanwhile, said it was possible he might meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "I don't know if it will be soon, but it is certainly visible on the horizon," Peres told Israel army radio.

Peres has been trying to revive cease­fire talks. A truce brokered in June by CIA chief George Tenet collapsed weeks ago, and high­level contacts have been rare.

On Sunday, six Palestinians were killed, including Samir Abu Zeid, his daughter Inez, 7, and his son Suleiman, 5, who died in an explosion at their home in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian police said the explosion was caused by an Israeli missile.

Israel denied having fired a missile at the house, and initially said the blast was caused by a Palestinian mortar which was aimed at an Israeli army position but fell short of its target.

However, on Monday, an Israeli spokesman, Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz, said an examination of the evidence showed that Abu Zeid was handling a bomb that exploded prematurely.

A number of Palestinian militants have been killed in recent months while preparing explosives, in some cases injuring or killing bystanders.

An AP reporter who visited the house found no evidence of a missile, a mortar or any other projectile. The home consisted of a number of small cinderblock structures surrounding a yard. There were no signs of impact on a wall or a roof and there was no crater on the ground.

The explosion appeared to have taken place inside the yard. Buckled and bloodstained sheets of corrugated iron were scattered around the perimeter. Neighbors said Abu Zeid's body was blown apart and his limbs scattered.

Palestinian police came to the house Sunday evening and removed all the evidence, neighbors said. Abu Zeid was a leader of a local squad of activists engaged in confrontations with Israeli troops and Jewish settlers, Palestinian and Israeli sources said.