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Fighting escalates in Middle East



JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Four people died and at least 15 others were injured Sunday in a string of violent incidents between Israelis and Palestinians.

A Palestinian man was shot dead by the Israeli army in Ramin, near Tulkarem, on the West Bank, the Palestine Red Crescent said Sunday. The Palestinian organization identified the man as Mahdi Muhammed Mazyyad, 25. The Israeli army said it is checking the report.

Israeli radio said he was one of two Palestinians who were shot at while they were trying to plant a bomb. The other Palestinian escaped, the report said.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli army.

At the same time, one women was killed and three other people were wounded -- two of them seriously -- when their car was fired on in the West Bank, the Israeli Army said.

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CNN's Mike Hanna reports on recent violence between Palestinians and Israelis (August 5)

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The Israeli army described it as a drive-by shooting, and said the shots came from a car bearing Palestinian plates near the village of Zaoun east of Qalqilya near Alfei Menashe.

Earlier Sunday, an Israeli missile strike killed an activist member of the militant wing of the Muslim group Hamas in the West Bank, Palestinian security sources said.

The Palestinian sources identified the Hamas member as Amer Mansur Alhuzeri and said he was in a car when it was hit by a missile from an Israeli helicopter in Tulkarem.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said three Palestinian bystanders were wounded by shrapnel.

Israeli radio said three missiles hit the car, which contained explosives.

The Israel Defense Forces said Alhuzeri had been preparing for suicide bombings planned for the coming days in Israel. They said he had "executed many shooting attacks" and set explosives in recent months in the northern West Bank.

They described the victim as a 25- or 26-year-old Islamic student from Tulkarem who had been arrested by Israel in 1995 and 1998, when he admitted to taking part in Hamas military activities.

The IDF said the man recruited and trained suicide bombers in his role as assistant to Fawaz Badran, a senior leader in the Tulkarem command area.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Israeli television the man "was about to bring suicide bombers to attack in the heart of the country."

Sharon described the assassinations as defensive tactics. He told Fox News Sunday he had sent Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat the names of about 100 people who Israeli forces believe were planning acts of violence against Israelis.

"I asked him to arrest them; no steps were taken by him," Sharon said. "I made it very clear we have to defend our citizens, we have to defend our lives. Therefore, we had to take counterterrorist steps."

Shortly after the helicopter attack, the Israeli defense ministry faxed to members of the news media the names of seven wanted "Palestinian terrorists," the first time it had published such a list.

Earlier Sunday, a Palestinian gunman opened fire from a car at soldiers standing near the Defense Ministry in downtown Tel Aviv, wounding at least nine people, including several Israeli civilians, Israeli police said.

The gunman stopped his car near the headquarters and started firing indiscriminately, then attempted to drive away but was himself shot by a traffic police officer, witnesses said. He was taken to a hospital, where he died, Israeli television said.

Israeli police said the man is a resident of East Jerusalem. The car he was driving bore Israeli license plates.

They were the latest exchanges of violence in a weekend of escalating conflict. Overnight, there was an exchange of fire between the Palestinian village of Beit Jala and the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo on the outskirts of Jerusalem, land occupied by Israel in 1967.

Also overnight, Israelis attacked a Palestinian police station in Gaza. The attack was carried out in response to the firing of mortars on a number of Jewish settlements, Israeli officials said.

The U.S. State Department has criticized the Israeli attacks on individual Palestinians, but Palestinians said it is up to the United States to persuade Israel to accept independent observers in the region as a means of implementing a ceasefire.

But Sharon dismissed that possibility in his interview with Fox, saying, "Israel will not accept any international intervention here."

Still, he said, "Israel is committed to peace. Myself, I am committed to peace. No doubt, I am committed not to create any escalation. I can assure you, there's not going to be any war in the Middle East."

In terms of a U.S.-brokered agreement, there must be a seven-day violence-free period before further steps can be taken towards negotiating a longer-term peace.

Israel says it will not consider negotiation until the violence ends. Palestinians say the violence cannot end without some form of negotiation.






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