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International committee releases report on Mideast violence

Two Palestinians killed along Gaza border

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Palestinian police officers collect fragments of Israeli rockets following Monday's attack  


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An international committee's report on possible paths to peace in the Mideast was released Monday as violence again flared between Palestinians and Israelis in the troubled region.

The findings of the Mitchell Committee, headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, were formally released Monday. Palestinian and Israeli officials had already issued responses to its contents billed by its authors as a route map to a possible peace settlement.

"We focused our findings on three objectives," said Mitchell. Those were: "Ending violence, restoring confidence and resuming meaningful negotiations," he said.

Meanwhile, fresh clashes on Monday in Gaza left two Palestinians dead.

The Israel Defense Forces said it had destroyed a factory in northern Gaza that produced mortar shells, but Palestinian witnesses said the building contained a mechanics shop, a marble factory and a library. Palestinian officials said civilian targets were hit, but no casualties were reported.

The IDF said combat helicopters were used to hit the northern Gaza installation. Mortar shells were produced there to be fired at Israeli settlements and villages in Gaza and Israel, the Israeli army said.

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Since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising last year, the IDF said, 160 mortar shells have been fired at Israeli targets, both military and civilian, and one soldier and 12 civilians have been wounded as a result.

The IDF's helicopter attack came less than a day after Israeli tank shells hit the house of a Palestinian security chief in the West Bank.

Five of Col. Jibril Rajoub's bodyguards were wounded in the Sunday evening attack, according to the Palestinian Media Center. Rajoub was unhurt.

An Israeli officer told Reuters that shots had been fired from the house and that his troops had responded with tank fire. Israeli spokesman Raanan Gissin told Reuters that Rajoub had not been targeted in the attack. "I'm not sure even if the soldiers knew this was the house of Mr. Rajoub," Gissin said.

Palestinians denied that any gunfire was coming from Rajoub's house.

Along the Gaza-Israeli border, the Israeli army said Monday it shot two Palestinian men who were attempting to plant an explosive device. Palestinian security sources said the men died in "an exchange of fire."

Sources: Powell to step up Mideast involvement

The five-man independent committee probing the Mideast violence is headed by Mitchell. The panel was appointed after a summit last year at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, directed by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

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The committee's widely leaked report calls for an immediate cease-fire and recommends a freeze on the construction of new Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza.

In Washington, sources in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush said Secretary of State Colin Powell will use the Mitchell report to increase his personal involvement in the Middle East.

Powell has told Congress that the Mitchell report and an Egyptian-Jordanian peace proposal are "tools" that can be used to help the two sides go back to the negotiating table.

On Sunday, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney appeared to support the Mitchell report's recommendation of a cease-fire. "We need to find some way to try and cap that violence and get some kind of process started," Cheney said. "It is conceivable that when the Mitchell Plan is released this week that that may provide some basis on which to proceed."

Both Israel and the Palestinians had already submitted lengthy papers in response to the committee's preliminary findings.

The Palestinians accepted the report, emphasizing the moves Israel is called upon to make to defuse the situation.

Israel endorsed the procedure for ending the violence but objected to a freeze on Jewish settlements.

CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna contributed to this report.







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