- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 16, 2002

From combined dispatches
JERUSALEM A firefight near a Jewish settlement in the northern Gaza Strip left two Israeli soldiers and a Palestinian gunman dead yesterday, shortly after troops foiled a car-bomb attack in fresh violence as President Bush worked on Middle East peace proposals.
The soldiers clashed with a group of gunmen near the Dugit Jewish settlement in the northern Gaza Strip during a search for militants who planted a car bomb carrying mortar rounds and launchers and more than 330 pounds of explosives.
An army commander at the scene said the militants had planned to lure soldiers to the booby-trapped car by firing mortars from the vehicle and then detonating explosives when troops came to search the area.
Israeli television and radio stations said at least one of the militants was killed in the clash. The Israeli army declined immediate comment, but military sources confirmed Israeli forces had come under fire in northern Gaza.
The military wing of the Islamic Hamas group claimed the attack via its Web site.
In the West Bank, a small contingent of Israeli troops staged a brief raid into Jenin before dawn yesterday following intelligence information that Palestinian militants were planning an attack from the city, the army said.
Israeli radio stations quoted security officials as saying the troops had searched unsuccessfully for a suicide bomber planning to carry out an attack in Israel next week.
The U.S. administration held more consultations with Middle East leaders on Friday as Mr. Bush prepared to announce his vision for peace, based on a two-state solution, probably next week.
Mr. Bush has vowed to lay out a plan for Palestinian statehood, but U.S. officials said he had not decided what he would say in what could be either a speech or a statement.
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell held separate talks Friday with Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and chief Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath.
In parallel, Middle East specialists from the "quartet" the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations met at the State Department to work on their proposal for a Middle East peace conference within the next few months.
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials were dismissive yesterday of a reported plan under consideration by the Bush administration to create a provisional state of Palestine with limited sovereignty on the approximately 40 percent of West Bank and the two-thirds of the Gaza Strip under Palestinian control. Instead, the Palestinians called for a firm timetable to establish a permanent state on all land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said that provisional states simply do not exist in international relations, and that Mr. Bush should focus on other angles.
According to the Boston Globe, Palestinian officials who were briefed by American officials said a provisional Palestinian state proposed by Mr. Bush would be able to conduct foreign relations, sign treaties and join the United Nations. The plan would leave unresolved the issues of borders and a capital, the Globe reported.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a senior aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said yesterday that the Palestinians have received no official word from the Americans on the path Mr. Bush is expected to lay out.

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