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Palestinians killed in West Bank

Palestinian demonstrators carry a model of the Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock  

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Four Palestinians have died in a shooting incident in the West Bank.

The bodies were discovered early on Wednesday morning in an olive grove outside the village of Betiba, near Nablus.

The latest violence comes amid hopes for new talks aimed at ending 11 months of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israelis and Palestinians have different accounts of the incident. Israeli sources said army patrols opened fire on a group of armed men who were planting a bomb on a road leading to an Israeli outpost overlooking Nablus.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society and the governor of Nablus said there was an exchange of fire in which three men were injured and one went missing. Unarmed villagers were recruited to help locate the missing man when they were gunned downed by Israeli army troops.

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CNN's Jerrold Kessel outlines the different accounts of the deaths
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The Red Crescent Society said the bodies were "full of bullets" and three of them had also been hit in the back with something sharp, possibly an ax.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has held separate meetings with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Both sides have said they are considering a German offer to host a meeting - possibly in Berlin.

Arafat said on Tuesday he had agreed to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and that the meeting could take place "at any moment."

Peres, on a trip to Hungary, said he intended to meet Arafat in the "very near future."

"With words it is possible to achieve a lot more than with explosions and it is our desire to bring the current conflict to an end," Peres said. "The solution is the reconciliation between two nations."

Arafat made his comments after meeting with Fischer, who is on a three-day tour of the region, in Ramallah, West Bank.

"I welcome your (Fischer's) good ideas and I welcome meeting ... Shimon Peres in your office in Berlin as you suggested," Arafat said following his meeting with Fischer.

On Monday, Israel Radio reported Peres would ask Fischer to carry a message to Arafat. Peres is believed to have a proposal for a phased plan for implementing a cease-fire that he wants to discuss with the Palestinian leader.

Under the plan, the two sides would agree to implement a cease-fire province-by-province. Israel would agree to withdraw its restrictions on the Palestinians in any province where the violence stops.

Fischer said he supported talks between the Palestinian leader and Peres.

"We are ready day and night, 24 hours, seven days a week, when there is a need, we will be there and the door will be open and everything will be tried," Fischer said.

• Israel Defense Forces
• Palestine Red Crescent Society
• Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
• Palestinian Authority

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