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Sharon expresses regret for death of Palestinian baby

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressed regret Tuesday for the death of a 4-month-old Palestinian girl killed during Israeli shelling of a refugee camp, but he blamed Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat for the violence in the region.

Another death was reported Tuesday. The Israeli army said a Jewish settler was killed overnight in the West Bank. News of that death came on the same day that Iman Hiju, the Palestinian baby, was buried.

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"Children should not be involved," Sharon said at a news conference. He described the child's death as accidental.

"I am convinced the Israeli forces have no intention to hit civilians," he said. Israeli officials described Monday's attack in southern Gaza as retaliatory, following Palestinian attacks on Jewish settlements.

Sharon accused the Palestinians of trying to smuggle weapons into Gaza, a charge rejected by a top Palestinian negotiator.

On Monday, the Israel Defense Forces said it intercepted a boat containing weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, off the coast of northern Israel, near Rosh Hanikra.

"We know that this boat is the fourth time coming with weapons to Gaza," Sharon said at the news conference. "This time they were caught. ... and that only emphasizes the intentions of the Palestinian Authority."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat denied Sharon's accusations.

"We don't control the Mediterranean or the shores of the Mediterranean," Erakat added. "Our fishermen cannot even fish in sea of Gaza for past seven months."

While Sharon expressed regret for Monday's death of the baby, he stressed that the responsibility ultimately belonged to Arafat for not controlling mortar attacks coming out of Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian negotiator said the motivation of the Israeli leader is clear.

"I believe that Mr. Sharon is trying to hide his crime and terror when he kills a 4-month-old baby, injuring schoolchildren and now assigning blame and finger-pointing at Arafat," Erakat said.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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