JERUSALEM (AP) _ Despite U.S. criticism, Israel decided Tuesday to continue its policy of targeted killings of suspected Palestinian militants.
The decision by a small group of ministers known as the ``kitchen Cabinet'' came after a two-day burst of violence in which five Islamic militants were killed by Israeli forces, a Palestinian taxi driver was shot to death by Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians _ a shepherd and a shopper _ were killed, presumably by Palestinians.
Despite the fighting, Israelis and Palestinians said they were not walking away from the U.S.-brokered truce that went into effect June 13. Each side accused the other of violating the provisions of the cease-fire.
The State Department said Monday that the Palestinians were not doing enough to stem the violence, but spokesman Richard Boucher also reiterated that the United States was ``opposed to Israel's policy of targeted killings.''
Boucher's comment came a day after an Israeli helicopter gunship killed three Palestinians, members of the Islamic Jihad group, who were riding in a car packed with explosives.
Israel's deputy defense minister, Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, who attended Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, defended targeted killings and said they would continue if necessary.
``It is a policy of self-defense,'' she told Israel radio. ``When we know of a terrorist who is a ticking bomb _ meaning he is on his way, carrying explosives, to carry out an attack in Israel _ it is incumbent on us to prevent it and that is what we do.''
Israel army radio went further, saying ministers favored stepping up counter-terrorism operations.
Rabin-Pelossof, when asked about reports that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was weighing a general assault against the Palestinian Authority if the cease-fire collapsed entirely, said: ``We have to consider all the existing options.''
Israeli Science Minister Matan Vilnai, meanwhile, scoffed at the U.S. criticism.
``I'm not sure they (American officials) really understand the rules of the game,'' Vilnai told Israel radio. ``I would like to see how the Americans would react if a car packed with explosives blew up in the middle of Manhattan.
``I know how they would react, I know the Americans quite well. It is very hard to understand these nuances unless you are in the midst of it all.''
On Monday, two car bombs exploded in the central Israeli town of Yehud, but no one was hurt. A radical Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claimed responsibility and said the blasts were revenge for Sunday's killing of the Islamic Jihad activists.
Palestinians, meanwhile, said Israel was violating the cease-fire.
``Even the American spokesman condemned the Israeli government decision to return to the assassination policy. Therefore, this is the biggest violation of the cease-fire,'' said Palestinian Authority official Ahmed Abdel Rahman. ``The Israeli government does not want to reach any arrangements, unilaterally or with international participation, to implement the cease-fire.''
The Israeli army, meanwhile, announced Tuesday that Palestinians found the body of a shepherd, Yair Har-Sinai, who lived in the Jewish settlement of Soussia in the southern West Bank. Har-Sinai was shot to death at close range.
After the shooting, the army fired flares to illuminate the nearby Palestinian village of Yatta, Palestinian witnesses said. Tracks from the shooting led to Yatta, said Zvika Bar-Hai, a settlers' leader.
Har-Sinai was the third victim of the violence between Israel and the Palestinians on Monday.
A Palestinian taxi driver was shot to death by Israeli soldiers who mistakenly thought he was planting a bomb near a military checkpoint in the West Bank, and an Israeli was fatally shot in Baka al Gharbieh as he shopped at an open-air market in an Israeli Arab town on the border with the West Bank.
Overnight, Israeli troops moved into the town where the Israeli shopper was killed to remove illegal market stalls, the army said. Palestinians said the soldiers uprooted trees and damaged property.