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Clinton, Arafat meet as Mideast deaths continue
CNN Correspondent Tom Mintier contributed to this report.
JERUSALEM (CNN) --- Deadly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces continued in the Mideast on Thursday as Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and U.S. President Bill Clinton met in Washington to look for a way to stop the fighting.
An Israeli Apache helicopter launched missiles at a van carrying members of Arafat's Fatah party in a Bethlehem suburb, killing a party official and two bystanders. And another Palestinian -- a 14-year-old boy -- was killed in a clash with Israeli security forces at the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza. Thirty people were injured.
The man killed in the van was identified as Hussein Abayat, a Fatah member and local leader of the intifada. Azizeh Tanoun, a 56-year-old woman standing on the street, and Rahmeh Shaheen, a woman inside her nearby home, were also killed.
Three people in the van and five bystanders were injured in the attack, which Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said was launched after identifying the vehicle as "a source of multiple firing on Rachel's Tomb and the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem."
In a statement, the IDF reported that "missiles were launched by IDF helicopters at the vehicle of a senior Fatah/Tanzim activist. The pilots reported an accurate hit."
The IDF identifies Tanzim as a Fatah militia.
"Today it was a pre-emptive operation because those terrorists that were killed were on their way to another attack on Israelis..." said Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh. "It should be very, very clear, if the game is a guerrilla war, we are the champions of the world in this game."
One of the men in the vehicle, identified as Abayat aide Khaled Salahat, was critically wounded. Hospital officials described the other injures as ranging from moderate to serious.
Fatah calls attack 'terrorist action'
Fatah leader Hussein Sheikh called the attack a serious escalation and accused the IDF of targeting and attempting to assassinate Fatah leaders.
"This will only make us more determined," he told CNN, warning that the Israelis should "expect a violent response." He said Israel was pushing the Palestinians into "a new phase of violence which we did not want to enter."
Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti called the attack a "terrorist action" aimed at "putting an end to this peaceful intifada."
"We are looking for peace and we hope that one day we will see the real peace on the ground," Barghouti told CNN. "The Israelis cannot keep occupation and ask the Palestinians for security and stability and peace. They have to choose."
The IDF issued a statement saying Abayat was suspected in several attacks against Israeli forces, the shrine at Rachel's Tomb and the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem.
The statement specifically mentioned fatal attacks on Israeli soldiers on October 2 and November 1 and another attack on October 17 that resulted in serious wounds for an Israeli border guard.
Barak's office offered no comment on the Palestinian allegations, but Israeli soldiers blocked the Jerusalem-Bethlehem checkpoint on the road to Rachel's Tomb, preventing Jewish settlers from reaching the biblical holy site for an annual prayer gathering.
The army had planned to bring worshippers to the site in armored vehicles, but those plans changed when Israel received what Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said were "concrete warnings of plans to carry out an attack at the shrine itself."
Barak to meet with Clinton
Arafat arrived in Washington early on Thursday for the meeting with Clinton. Arafat's Israeli adversary, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, is expected to arrive for a meeting with Clinton on Sunday. Barak and Arafat are not scheduled to meet.
Clinton invited the two leaders to Washington in another effort to end six weeks of bitter violence that has killed more than 200 people -- all but a handful of them Palestinians or Israeli Arabs.
The two Mideast leaders have pointedly blamed each other for the continuation of the violence, born of frustration with the stumbling peace process.
"The basic ingredient for all the ails that we are witnessing there is the continuation of the Israeli occupation, and this must end," said Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erakat, who traveled to Washington with Arafat. "President Arafat is determined to exert every possible effort in order to ensure ... the Israeli occupation is finished and peace is made once and all."
Barak on Wednesday said he was prepared to back the declaration of a Palestinian state, provided the state is established through negotiations and not violence.
But he insisted he would not accept an international peacekeeping force, called for by Arafat, because he believed such a force would "reward" Palestinian violence.
U.S. names Mitchell to head Mideast fact-finding commission vessel
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