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Palestinian Gunmen Kill 4 Israelis in Gaza Strip

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem), Ha'aretz &

Palestinian gunmen shot and killed four Israelis and wounded four others Sunday in the Gaza Strip. Israeli troops returned fire killing the three Palestinian attackers. Three Palestinian gunmen, disguised as Israeli soldiers, infiltrated the Israeli army outpost at Erez in the northern Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army base is situated alongside the industrial zone in Erez and the Palestinian attackers penetrated the area under cover of early morning fog. The Palestinian gunmen then opened fire on troops and civilians. It was the first such attack since President George W. Bush met Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan. Abbas called at the meeting for an end to the Palestinian armed uprising against Israel.

In what appeared to be a challenge to his leadership, three militant Palestinian groups Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades issued a joint statement claiming responsibility for the attack. On Friday, Hamas called off talks with Abbas on a suspension of violent attacks against Israelis.

Hamas expressed anger over Abbas' speech at the end of the summit in Jordan. The organization claimed he had made what they regarded as unacceptable concessions to Israel and demanded a retraction of his statements. Hamas officials met Saturday with the Islamic Jihad, another organization that frequently carries out suicide bombings and other terror attacks. The two groups said they would continue discussions over what future contacts they might have with the Palestinian Authority.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the third group to claim responsibility for Sunday's shootings in Gaza, is the armed wing of Palestinian chief Yasir Arafat's Fatah faction.

Israel demanded Abbas immediately begin arresting militants, dismantling their organizations and disarming Palestinians. "If terrorism will continue, it will destroy the road map, it will destroy the peace process," Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said.

Israel had provoked the attacks by continuing restrictions on Palestinians and killing two Hamas militants Thursday night near the West Bank city of Tul Karm, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath said. "This requires an immediate discussion with the Palestinian factions to bring an end to the fighting and there is an effort from all sides to make sure that this happens."

Ra'anan Gissin, a senior aide to Sharon, told CNN that the attack showed that "again the response we get from the Palestinian side is confrontation," after Israel agreed to take steps to implement the U.S.-led road map peace plan. Israel has no choice but to take action against terror groups if the Palestinian Authority fails to do so itself, he added.

Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen told news agencies Sunday he would resist pressure to crack down on terrorists and would continue efforts to talk with them. "We will not allow anybody to drag us into a civil war."

In a move that has raised eyebrows across Israel, even amongst proponents of the 'Road Map,' European countries and the United States have begun to re-arm the Palestinian security forces, members of which have murdered hundreds of Israelis during the Oslo War.

The PA is preparing to receive European and U.S. police equipment to "rebuild a strong Palestinian police force," sources within the PA told Ha'aretz. The sources claimed that the aim of receiving such equipment is to rehabilitate the various PA security apparatuses for implementation of the security requirements called for in the 'Road Map.'

The equipment is to include jeeps and special riot-control vehicles, shields and helmets. Handguns will also be included. Most of the equipment is waiting at Israeli passages to be allowed into the PA. An intensive movement of police forces was seen in the streets of Gaza areas still under the control of PA security forces, as various militias were seen moving around Gaza.

Security sources report preparations to build up a new Central Security Force, adding that officers in the force are being prepared to handle riots or civil disturbances. The sources said that the force would have special uniforms and special weapons and equipment from both Europe and the United States.

Officials in the PA and members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror organization - an offshoot of Yasir Arafat's own Fatah terror forces - said over the weekend that a program had been initiated by PA chief of security Mohammed Dahlan in which members' weapons would we bought from them and they would be offered jobs in the new Central Security Force.

An Al-Aqsa leader said Dahlan is offering $6,000 - more than twice the black market value - for each rifle. Dahlan also offered a signup bonus of at least $6,000 to Al-Aqsa members who join the security forces, members of the terror organization told Ha'aretz. Those amounts are enormous in the West Bank and Gaza, where a teacher makes about $330 a month, and unemployment exceeds 50 percent.

Officials: Latest Palestinian Attack Should Not Derail Peace Process

By Stephanie Ho (VOA-Washington)& Ha'aretz

Top American officials say a deadly attack by militant Palestinians against an Israeli army post should not derail the Middle East peace process. Speaking on the NBC Television program Meet the Press, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice condemned the latest Middle East violence, saying the attack is an attempt to undermine two important summits in the region last week.

"At Sharm al-Sheik and then at Aqaba, we had the entire Arab world there, with the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, with Bahrain as head of the Arab League," she said. "We had a very successful summit in Aqaba, in which parties committed themselves to fight terrorism and pursue the road to peace. Now, there are going to be those who try and make this stillborn. But the parties need to stay on track."

In a separate interview on CBS television's Face the Nation, Rice said Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has Washington's firm support, even though polls show he does not enjoy widespread popularity at home.

"Prime Minister Abbas is going to have the support of his own people because he is going to be able to deliver for them in ways that the former Palestinian leaders, or even leaders who are still there, have not been able to deliver," he said. "Let us be very clear: The Palestinian people probably have their best chance now at statehood, their best chance of a peaceful resolution of this conflict, their best chance of living in peace and prosperity, side-by-side with Israel, that they have had in a very, very long time."

Secretary of State Colin Powell told Fox News Sunday that Abbas has vowed to stop terrorism in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Powell said the United States will do everything it can to help that effort. The secretary also called for Israel to live up to its end of the bargain, namely to dismantle unauthorized settlements. Powell added that President Bush has made peace in the Middle East one of his top priorities.

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