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Israeli troops enter Palestinian-controlled town, destroy home of suspected militant


JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli tanks entered Palestinian-controlled territory in the West Bank on Saturday and demolished the house of a man Israel blamed for a shooting attack last month. The army withdrew once the operation was over.

Twelve Palestinians who Israel said were suspected of militant activity were arrested during the operation in the village of Araqa, west of Jenin.

Meanwhile, on the political front, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres suggested Friday that the declaration of a Palestinian state could lead to the resumption of peace talks. The idea looked unlikely to receive the approval of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Sharon opposes several reported elements of a peace plan being proposed by Peres. A planned Friday meeting between Peres and Sharon to discuss the initiative was postponed until Saturday night.

In Saturday's incursion, Israeli tanks destroyed the home where Palestinian Nathir Hamad lived with his parents, his pregnant wife and his two daughters, security officials and witnesses said.

The Israeli army said Hamad, 27, was responsible for organizing an attack in early October in which a Palestinian gunman dressed as an Israeli soldier entered a bus station in Afula in northern Israel and began firing at bystanders.

A 76-year-old man was killed instantly and two women died of wounds later in hospitals. Another 14 were wounded.

Israel has withdrawn its forces from four Palestinian-controlled towns in the West Bank under pressure from the United States. It still occupies two others, Jenin and Tulkarem.

Israel initially entered the six towns in response to the Oct. 17 assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister.

On Friday, an Israeli woman was killed in a Palestinian ambush in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip shot and killed a mentally disabled Palestinian man near an Israeli watchtower, Palestinian security officials said. The army said soldiers fired only after the man ignored their warnings not to come any closer. Soldiers also fired warning shots, the army said.

Near the Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and critically wounded while watching a soccer game, Palestinian security officials said.

The army said the youth was tampering with a fence. Soldiers warned him and then shot toward his lower body, the army said.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians could be resumed within weeks, Peres suggested in an interview broadcast on Swedish radio Friday. He met Thursday with Ahmed Qureia, a top aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Peres said the sides might be ``a little closer than I thought'' in their conditions for a renewal of peace talks.

``Maybe the best thing to reopen negotiations is the declaration of a Palestinian state, maybe,'' Peres said. ``I want to check it. I don't reject it immediately.''

Peres' peace initiative would call for the establishment of a Palestinian state first in the areas the Palestinians currently control, Channel Two TV reported Friday. As part of the plan, Jewish settlements in Gaza would be dismantled.

However, Sharon firmly opposes the uprooting of any of the more than 140 settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Although he has said he supports a Palestinian state, he is against pulling troops out of additional occupied areas.

Sharon has not made public any plans for peace talks. He has repeatedly insisted that all violence must cease before negotiations can resume.
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