'Three Israelis killed' in ambush

Two Palestinian teenagers killed as violence escalates
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The Independent Online

Gunmen shot at Israeli cars in two separate West Bank attacks today. Early reports said three Israelis were killed, including a woman.

Gunmen shot at Israeli cars in two separate West Bank attacks today. Early reports said three Israelis were killed, including a woman.

The attacks, presumably by Palestinians, signalled a new stage in nearly seven weeks of Israeli-Palestinian fighting that has left more than 200 people dead, the vast majority Palestinians.

In Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, two Palestinian rock-throwers, ages 16 and 17, were killed by Israeli army fire in a clash.

At around 4:30 p.m. (1430 gmt), the shooting ambushes were carried out simultaneously near the West Bank town of Ramallah. Settler spokesman Yehoshua Mor-Yosef said three Israelis, including a woman, were killed and at least five were wounded. One of the targets was an Israeli army bus, Israel radio said.

The Israeli army had no immediate comment.

In Hebron, several hundred Palestinians demonstrated at the Islamic University. Some carried pistols and submachine guns and chanted, "shooting is the only language the enemy understands.'

An Israeli official warned that the military would stiffen its response to a growing number of Palestinian gunfire attacks against Israeli forces and civilians.

Since Palestinian rioting erupted on Sept. 28, 202 people have been killed in clashes.

The last few days have been characterized by a dwindling number of mass riots with youths throwing rocks and firebombs at Israeli soldiers, but a marked increase in Palestinian gunfire at Israeli positions.

The gunfire comes from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's police and security arms, who received weapons in accordance with interim agreements with Israel, and from Tanzim militiamen associated with Arafat's Fatah party.

The Israelis charge that the Tanzim militias are holding weapons illegally and have demanded that they be disarmed. The Palestinians reply that the Tanzim are defending their people against Israeli aggression.

Israeli government spokesman Moshe Fogel said that the increase in Palestinian gunfire means that the conflict is no longer a civil uprising, but "warfare and terrorism."

He said that Israeli forces could not continue to be on the "receiving end of different firing situations and not take the necessary actions." Briefing foreign correspondents, Fogel said: "The rules of engagement have to be adjusted."

Under the present rules, Israeli soldiers are allowed to open fire only if their lives are in danger or if they are fired upon, though the military says local commanders have a wide range of discretion.

Palestinians charge that the Israelis have been responding to demonstrations with disproportionate force.