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Three Palestinians killed as Mideast truce remains shaky

Updated:

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli troops shot and killed three Palestinians in the West Bank on Sunday, witnesses said, bringing to 18 the number of Palestinians killed since the two sides agreed last week to work on firming up a cease-fire.

The Israeli army reported numerous Palestinian attacks on its troops over the previous 24 hours, saying there were several injuries, but no fatalities on the Israeli side.

With the latest Mideast truce looking shaky, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat flew to Cairo, Egypt, where he met with President Hosni Mubarak. After the meeting Sunday, Arafat said he and Mubarak discussed disagreements among Israeli politicians over the implementation of the cease-fire agreement reached Wednesday. He did not elaborate

Asked about Israeli-Palestinian security talks set for Sunday, Arafat said: ``Despite the continuation of Israeli aggressive acts, I didn't halt political meetings with the Israelis.'' He then left for Jordan for a meeting with King Abdullah II.

Israeli and Palestinian officials said that according to the agreement, the truce was to take effect Friday, with various elements being implemented over the following four days.

Right-wingers in the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said continuing attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians showed Arafat was not serious about the truce. But dovish Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said there had been some improvement.

``It's clear that the suicide bombers and car bombs have stopped,'' he told Israeli army radio. Still, he acknowledged ``there have been some very serious incidents.''

With 18 Palestinians killed _ and no Israelis _ over the past five days, Israel opposition leader Yossi Sarid questioned the army's assertion that soldiers only open fire in response to life-threatening attacks.

``I don't believe that just by responding we would have reached such fatal results,'' he said.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said Israel had yet to honor its side of the bargain and start lifting a military blockade of Palestinian towns, villages and roads. ``Nothing has been implemented yet,'' he said. ``We need to see some actions on the ground, not only words on paper.''

Israeli Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh told army radio that closures would be lifted only in places where there are no violent incidents.

In Damascus, Syria, radical Palestinian groups criticized as a ``waste of time'' attempts by Arafat and Israel to shore up the cease-fire and said the year-old uprising will intensify.

``The uprising will continue and get stronger, despite U.S. attempts to bring calm to the Middle East region and to put the Palestinian cause on the ice,'' said Ahmed Jibril, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, one of the eight Syrian-based Palestinian movements that reject peace with Israel.

Their leaders met at a one-day Palestinian gathering to support the uprising.

Palestinian taxi driver Asmi Asm said that in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, he and other drivers were ferrying laborers from the West Bank city of Nablus to the town of Tulkarem, near the border with Israel. The workers then intended to join the thousands of Palestinians who slip into Israel to work illegally.

Asm said that about halfway through the journey, near the village of Silat e-Dhar, the convoy came upon a pile of rocks blocking the road. When some of the passengers began dismantling the barrier, Israeli troops concealed in a nearby olive grove opened fire, killing two people and wounding six, he said.

The military said it was checking the report. Army radio said that soldiers shot at the vehicles when they failed to stop at a roadblock, which was set up near the spot where an Israeli motorist had been wounded by Palestinian gunfire some hours earlier.

In the city of Hebron, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian plainclothes intelligence officer as he patrolled on foot, Palestinian security sources said. The Israeli army said it was checking the report.

In an unusual episode Sunday, Palestinian police in Gaza fired tear gas at Palestinian teen-agers to prevent them from confronting Israeli troops at a border crossing. In the past year of fighting, Palestinian security forces have rarely intervened to keep youths from moving toward Israeli troops.
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