SIX Palestinians killed in day of violence despite truce talks effort

Wednesday, August 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NABLUS, West Bank (AP) _ Six Palestinians died in clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza on Wednesday, a sudden upsurge of violence amid efforts to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders together for truce talks.

The bloodiest incident came when five Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire early Wednesday. The two sides gave widely differing accounts of the deaths. Israel said a special army unit discovered Palestinians planting a bomb alongside a West Bank road and opened fire, killing two. Later other armed men came to the scene and the soldiers killed three others.

Palestinians said only one of the five was a gunman. Thousands marched with the bodies of the five through the West Bank city of Nablus, and dozens fired in the air, causing another tragedy _ a man was critically wounded when a bullet hit him.

Later, in the southern part of Gaza City, witnesses said two Israeli helicopters fired four missiles at two cars, killing one person. Palestinian security officials, demanding anonymity, identified the dead man as Eilal al-Ghoul, 26, who was a member of Preventive Security, an arm of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, but later joined the militant Hamas. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Hamas spokesman Mahmoud Zahar said the target was al-Ghoul's father. ``It was an Israeli attempt to assassinate a senior member of Hamas,'' Zahar said.

A crowd gathered around one of the burned-out cars. People shouted ``Death to Israel'' and ``Death to Sharon,'' referring to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and waved assault rifles in the air as an Israeli helicopter flew overhead.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, an Israeli tank advanced into Palestinian-controlled territory and destroyed a police station, Palestinians said, after a firefight at the entrance to Psagot, a nearby Jewish settlement. No casualties were reported.

Israeli forces knocked down another Palestinian police post near the West Bank town of Jenin after an exchange of fire. An army bulldozer entered Palestinian-controlled territory and destroyed the structure, the military said.

Also Wednesday, Israel fired two ground-to-ground missiles at a Palestinian police post in Gaza, destroying the structure and wounding seven policeman, Palestinians said. The military said the attack was retaliation for a mortar shell fired toward an army post.

The spike of violence overshadowed efforts to bring Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres together for talks on a new truce.

Peres, visiting Poland, said he would begin making arrangements for the meeting when he returns to Israel. On Tuesday, Arafat suggested that they meet in Berlin. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, standing next to Arafat in Ramallah, appeared surprised by the idea but agreed to it.

In Jerusalem on Wednesday, Fischer counseled caution. ``This meeting must be carefully prepared,'' he said.

Over the past three days, Fischer has been shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to help arrange truce talks. Peres has proposed a gradual truce to be implemented first in relatively quiet areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In Cairo, Arafat called on Arab nations to take a stronger stand against Israel. In a speech prepared for a closed meeting of Arab foreign ministers and representatives, Arafat asked, ``Isn't there a way to stop the escalating Israeli aggression on the Palestinian people?''

Meanwhile, owners of a Jerusalem restaurant wrecked in a Palestinian suicide bombing two weeks ago said they will rebuild it. The bomber killed himself and 15 other people Aug. 9 at the Sbarro pizzeria in downtown Jerusalem.

The local managers of the U.S chain of Italian-style restaurants said they would renovate it. In a statement, they said the Jerusalem eatery ``has a symbolic significance that goes beyond the commercial aspect.'' The boarded-up storefront has become a site for prayers and memorials since the attack.