US frustrated by Israeli shootings

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The Independent Online

The Israeli army shot dead a Palestinian teenager yesterday, bringing the number of people Israeli troops have killed to at least nine in the three days since the Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, held the much-feted truce talks with Yasser Arafat.

The routine shootings of Palestinians on the streets of the occupied territories by Israeli troops, who have killed hundreds of Arabs over the last year, is sure to anger Washington, which has been pleading with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to agree to a truce while George Bush pieces together a coalition against terror.

The US voiced its annoyance with Israel on Thursday when, about 12 hours after Mr Arafat and Mr Peres issued a communique pledging to exert "maximum effort" for a ceasefire, Israeli tanks and bulldozers started demolishing Palestinian houses on the Gaza Strip.

The Israelis killed three Palestinians in the gun battle which resulted from the raid, which Israeli officials said was aimed at closing a tunnel used by Hamas bombers and to stop weapons smuggling. Reports from Gaza yesterday suggested the latest victim, 18-year-old Khalil Fayad, was shot dead while throwing stones at the heavily armed Israelis. It came a day after six Palestinians were killed – three in a mysterious explosion in Gaza – on the first anniversary of the start of the intifada. The dead included a 10-year-old boy shot by Israeli troops.

The violence is deepening the frustration felt by the US and its allies, who believe the raging conflict will make it harder to secure any consensus among Arab and Islamic countries over a counter-attack to the US bombings. The international community fears Mr Sharon does not want a ceasefire, as it would improve Western relations with his Iranian, Syrian and Palestinian enemies.

Israel admits that the level of Palestinian attacks has sharply dropped since Mr Arafat announced a ceasefire 12 days ago. There have been no suicide bombings by the Islamic-nationalist militants. But the paramilitaries have continued low level assaults, including a mortar bomb fired at a Jewish settlement near the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Friday night.

So far, there have been very few signs that the Israeli army is easing its suffocating siege of the Palestinians. Israel has added to it by creating a 20-mile closed military zone along the Palestinian side of the north-western border of the West Bank.

As the ceasefire falters, the key issue for the Americans is how to prevent the conflict exploding anew. They are dealing with a divided Israeli leadership, and will want to concentrate on the more compliant Mr Peres who this weekend said the Israeli blockade of the occupied territories should end, as it "only increases hatred and support of terror". But more pressure will be needed to get Israel, the largest recipient of US foreign funds, to step into line.

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