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Palestinian dies in Gaza battle

JERUSALEM -- A Palestinian was killed by Israeli troops overnight, a day after eight Israelis were killed in a hit-and-run bus attack outside Tel Aviv.

The Israel Defense Forces said the man was shot as soldiers foiled an attempt by armed Palestinians to enter houses in the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom early on Thursday.

A day earlier seven soldiers and one civilian were killed when a Palestinian rammed his bus into a crowd waiting at a bus stop.

Funerals for the eight were taking place on Thursday as Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon and his defeated predecessor Ehud Barak strove to form a joint government.

Restrictions imposed on Palestinian by Barak in response to the bus attack remained in place.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel has more on the violence and its possible impact on the peace process (February 14)

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CNN's Jerrold Kessel: "bodies were thrown into the air"

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Israeli defense minister Ephraim Sneh: "An attempt to destroy talks"

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graphic Recent acts of violence in the Middle East:
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Israel sealed the West Bank and Gaza by air, land and sea and confined Palestinians to their communities.

Sharon said he would take all necessary steps to restore security once he takes office.

Already, 400 people have been killed in five months of gunbattles, stone-throwing clashes and shooting ambushes.

Wednesday's attack, the deadliest in Israel since July 1997, took place shortly before 8 a.m., while dozens of Israeli soldiers and civilians crowded a bus stop in Azur, just south of Tel Aviv.

Without warning the 35-year-old driver from Gaza crashed his bus into the group at high speed.

"The bus was moving slowly and suddenly it speeded up and drove into the soldiers," said Ayelet Cohen-Natan, a witness.

"One of them was thrown up into a tree and fell to the ground."

The driver then sped away, leading police on a high-speed chase that ended 22 miles later when an officer wounded him with a shot to the chest, prompting him to crash into a truck.

In a call to Israel radio, the Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility and later the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also claimed responsibility in an announcement from a speaker truck that drove through Gaza City after nightfall.

The driver's relatives, however, said he had no ties to any Palestinian faction but was distraught at the large number of Palestinian casualties in clashes with Israel.

The father of five had been driving Palestinian laborers from Gaza to jobs in Israel for the past five years as an employee of the Israeli bus company Egged. Israel's Shin Bet security service issued him annual security clearances.

Later Wednesday, negotiators for Sharon and Barak resumed coalition talks.

Barak's Labor Party has agreed that as a junior partner in Sharon's government, it would drop aspirations for a final peace deal with the Palestinians and aim only for a partial accord.

In response to the bus attack, Arafat said the problem was "Israel's military escalation, which has a direct effect on the feelings of all the Palestinian people." Arafat said: "Our stand is very firm and clear: We are against all sorts of escalation, all sorts of terror.

"Whatever the cause, of course we are against the killing of people in whatever capacity."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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