- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

TEL AVIV — Renewed battles between Israel and Palestinians yesterday overshadowed the peace mission of former President Jimmy Carter, who extended his hand to one of Israel’s most hawkish politicians.

The fighting in the Gaza Strip intensified as the Palestinians counted at least 20 dead in a series of Israeli attacks, among them several children and a Reuters cameraman.

Three Israeli soldiers were killed in an early-morning clash when Hamas gunmen ambushed an Israeli patrol pursuing militants in the area of the border fence separating the coastal strip of 1.4 million from Israel.

Yesterday’s spike in casualties followed a week of escalated violence after the shooting deaths of two Israelis in the Nahal Oz fuel terminal on the Gaza border. It was the worst spurt of fighting since early March, when about 120 Gazans were killed in less than a week.

Israel’s military said it stepped up pre-emptive strikes against militants to keep them away from the border.

In the worst of the attacks, 11 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli helicopter strike near a mosque in the El Bureij refugee camp. Israel said the mosque was booby-trapped with explosives.

Reuters Editor in Chief David Schlesinger called for an Israeli investigation of the strike that killed cameraman Fadal Shana, 23, who was riding in a jeep marked “TV.” An Israeli military official would not comment on the circumstances of the attack except to express “sorrow” and to point out that the journalists’ jeep was in an area known for frequent hostilities.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Israel’s “aggression” in the Gaza Strip, while a Hamas spokesman said the Islamic militant group would not discuss a truce under these circumstances, the Associated Press reported.

“It’s been a hard day in the war on terrorists. In this unending war against terrorism that’s been forced on us, we need to show determination,” said Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former Israeli military chief of staff.

Mr. Carter, who finished a four-day stint in Israel and the West Bank yesterday, was rumored to have set a meeting in Cairo for today with Hamas leaders from the Gaza Strip. Tomorrow, he’s expected to meet with Damascus, Syria-based Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal.

The former president has been virtually boycotted by Israel’s top ministers.

Speaking to reporters at a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations, Mr. Carter said he thought that the international boycott of Hamas was unproductive and even harmful to the peace process. Mr. Carter argued that every political faction must be engaged in order to build a consensus for peace.

In that spirit, he met with Israeli lawmaker Avigdor Lieberman, a politician shunned by Arabs for his suggestion to transfer sovereignty over Israel’s Arab citizens to the Palestinian Authority.

The meeting struck a contrast with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who demurred from a meeting. A Lieberman spokeswoman said the far-right supporter of population swaps with the Palestinian Authority would seek to persuade Mr. Carter not to meet with Mr. Mashaal.

When asked why Mr. Lieberman agreed to meet with Mr. Carter when Israel’s top Cabinet ministers refused to do so, the spokeswoman responded that Mr. Carter was among those who “established the concept of territory for peace — and we saw what came out of it,” so Mr. Lieberman “wants to show him that the formula should be territory in return for territory.”

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