Israeli soldier and Palestinian attacker killed in Gaza Strip gun battle

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The Independent Online

A lone Palestinian attacker sprayed gunfire on an isolated Israeli army outpost in the Gaza Strip before dawn Saturday, killing one soldier and wounding two more before being shot dead by return fire, the military said.

A lone Palestinian attacker sprayed gunfire on an isolated Israeli army outpost in the Gaza Strip before dawn Saturday, killing one soldier and wounding two more before being shot dead by return fire, the military said.

According to Palestinian officials, Israeli helicopters responded several hours later by firing rockets on a Gaza base used by bodyguards of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Four bodyguards belonging to Arafat's Force 17 were injured, one of them seriously, near the town of Khan Yunis, said Palestinians said.

However, the Israeli military issued a statement denying that it carried out any such assault.

The Palestinian gunman, identified as Baha Said, launched his attack around 5 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Israeli soldiers guarding Jewish settlers at Kfar Darom in the central Gaza Strip, the military said.

The dead soldier was identified as 21-year-old Staff Sgt. Baruch Plum. Of the two injured, one was in serious condition and the other received moderate wounds, the army added.

The attack came a day after Arafat ordered Palestinian gunmen to stop shooting at Israelis from areas under Palestinian control.

It was not clear whether Arafat's call was a step toward a full-fledged truce, or if it was strictly a bid to prevent Israeli return fire on Palestinian civilian areas.

Arafat's appeal marked the first time he has called publicly for an end to the shooting by Palestinians. Israel has demanded that Arafat make a clear statement to his people to halt the fire.

Responding to Arafat's call, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said, "words are not enough." Israel has made a cessation of the violence a condition for returning to peace talks, which have been suspended.

In clashes on Friday, four Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire.

Arafat's appeal came amid growing complaints by Palestinian civilians who have been caught in the crossfire.

In a statement that was aired on Palestinian television and radio stations, Arafat said the Palestinian Authority was doing all it could to put an end to the gunfire.

"We are trying our best to get our people to stop shooting" from Palestinian-controlled areas, Arafat said. "There are orders from the Palestinian security council to stop shooting."

Arafat's statement applies to about 18 per cent of the West Bank and about two-thirds of the Gaza Strip that are under full Palestinian control. Most of the shooting has come from Palestinian-controlled areas, where the majority of Palestinians live.

Israeli army officials said that Arafat's statement did not go far enough, because there was no directive for Palestinian gunmen to cease fire everywhere.

Saturday's shooting took place in a Gaza enclave that remains under Israeli control. Also, four Israelis were killed last Monday in shooting ambushes in areas where Israel is in charge of security.

More than seven weeks of violence has left more than 230 people dead, the majority Palestinian teenagers and young men.

Barak said Friday that he plans to continue what he terms a policy of restraint in dealing with the crisis, saying the chance to resume peace talks will only come if the country "does not lose its cool."

"On the one hand we won't be dragged into adventures, but on other hand we won't let it appear that we are surrendering," Barak said in an interview with Israel Television.

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