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Israeli troops kill 3 Palestinians

Conflicting reports on what teenagers were doing


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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli troops shot and killed three Palestinian teenagers who were apparently playing soccer in the Rafah refugee camp Saturday, Palestinian security sources said.

They identified the youths as two 15-year-olds and one 16-year-old.

Israeli military officials acknowledged that its troops fired on three Palestinians, but they said the troops fired warning shots first.

The officials said the troops fired at the three when they continued to approach the military outpost along the volatile Israeli-controlled border strip between Gaza and Egypt in the Rafah refugee camp.

Two apparently died at the scene. Israeli troops coordinated with Palestinian police to evacuate the remaining survivor.

Palestinian security forces said he later died later of his wounds.

The Israeli military said that after the shootings, nine mortar shells were fired at Jewish settlements in Gaza. No injuries were reported.

The Rafah refugee camp has been a frequent flashpoint of fighting since violence broke out in late 2000.

The Israeli army frequently operates in the area to halt weapons smuggling from across the volatile border.

Palestinian militants declared a temporary cease-fire March 17.

The violence occurred two days before Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's scheduled visit to President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Bush has said he plans to bring up his opposition to Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank during their talks. (Full story)

Under a plan that has divided Sharon's own Likud party, Israel will dismantle 21Jewish settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank this summer.

The plan is in accordance with the "road map" to Middle East peace sponsored by the so-called Mideast Quartet of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union.

The road map sets out a path toward an end to Israeli-Palestinian violence, followed by a "final and comprehensive" settlement of the conflict and the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

The road map calls for Israel to freeze settlement construction and dismantle outposts built in the Palestinian territories after Sharon took office in March 2001.

It also calls for the Palestinian Authority to dismantle "terrorist capabilities and infrastructure," including confiscating illegal weapons and consolidating security authority.

Opinion polls show a large majority of Israelis support the Gaza withdrawal.


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