- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2001

NABLUS, West Bank Seven Palestinians died yesterday in an upsurge of violence in the West Bank and Gaza, including an apparent Israeli attempt to kill leaders of the radical Hamas movement just hours after the two sides tentatively agreed to new face-to-face talks.
The bloodiest incident came when five Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire early yesterday. 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 more bloodshed when a man was critically wounded by a stray bullet.
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 Bilal Ghoul, 26, who was a member of Preventive Security, an arm of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, but later joined the militant Hamas.
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.
Mr. Peres, visiting his native Poland, said he would begin making arrangements for the meeting when he returns to Israel.
On Tuesday, Mr. Arafat suggested that they meet in Berlin. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, standing next to Mr. Arafat in Ramallah, appeared surprised by the idea but agreed to it.
Over the past three days, Mr. Fischer has been shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to help arrange truce talks. Mr. Peres has proposed a gradual truce to be implemented first in relatively quiet areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In Jerusalem, Mr. Fischer counseled caution. "This meeting must be carefully prepared," he said yesterday.
Israel television said the military helicopters were targeting the top Hamas bomb makers and commanders, Mohammed Deif and Mohammed Ghoul the victim's father but the men escaped.
The Israeli military said the helicopters hit "terrorist cells engaged in mortar bombings."
Hamas spokesman Mahmoud Zahar called the attack "an Israeli attempt to assassinate a senior member of Hamas."
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.
Also yesterday, Israel fired two ground-to-ground missiles at a Palestinian police post in Gaza, destroying it and wounding seven policeman, Palestinians said. The military said the attack was retaliation for a mortar shell fired toward an army post.
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 persons Aug. 9 at the Sbarro pizzeria in downtown Jerusalem.
Since fighting erupted last September, 584 persons have been killed on the Palestinian side and 152 on the Israeli side.


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