Israeli army: Palestinian shot dead while trying to plant bomb

JERUSALEM - Members of an international fact-finding commission began arriving Sunday evening to look into more than two months of violence, as a Palestinian planting a roadside bomb was shot dead by Israeli soldiers, the military said.

A second Palestinian man fled the scene near Har Gilo, a Jewish settlement south of Jerusalem, an army spokesman said. In a separate incident, the army defused a bomb near the Jewish settlement of Elon Moreh near Nablus in the West Bank, army radio reported.

Israel's army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, told a Cabinet meeting Sunday that Palestinian militants were planning more bomb attacks.

Also, a 19-year-old Palestinian died after being shot in the chest during clashes with Israeli soldiers at the entrance to the West Bank village of Beit Furik, hospital officials said.

The fact-finding commission, led by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, will meet with both sides Monday to begin gathering evidence. Israel and the Palestinians agreed on setting up the commission at a summit meeting in Egypt in October.

Alon Liel, director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said he hoped both sides would steer clear of propaganda while making their reports. ''If this propaganda battle will start, the role of this committee will be substantially damaged,'' Liel said.

This came as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak set in motion an election in February by tendering his resignation to Israel's president. Barak will remain in office during the interim and will seek re-election, but the move further complicated peace efforts.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said peace talks were now on hold until after the elections. ''Without any doubt this will affect negotiations, peace talks will stop until the elections are over,'' he said in the Gaza Strip.

U.S. Mideast peace envoy Dennis Ross and his team will meet with Arafat in Morocco in the next few days ''to discuss the current situation, how to end the violence and how to build a bridge back to peace,'' a senior State Department official, with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Africa, said Sunday.

Clashes between rock-throwing Palestinians and Israeli troops have declined in recent weeks. However, Palestinians have set off several roadside bombs, and gunmen have increasingly targeted Israeli cars traveling in the West Bank.

In an attempt to stop the attacks, Mofaz said Israel has forbidden private cars carrying only Palestinian men from traveling in some parts of the West Bank.

The Israeli army controls entry and exit points to main cities and towns in the West Bank, and Palestinians were already facing tight restrictions on their movements. Shortly after the fighting broke out in late September, Israel imposed a closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip that banned Palestinians from entering Israel.

In other unrest, Palestinian shoppers and Jewish settlers scuffled in the West Bank city of Hebron when an around-the-clock curfew imposed on Palestinians was lifted temporarily.

The 30,000 Palestinians living in central Hebron were allowed a brief reprieve to leave their homes and shop when the commotion broke out. Israeli soldiers and police intervened. Police spokesman Rafi Yaffe said two settlers were arrested.

Outside Hebron, a 17-year-old Palestinian boy was shot in the abdomen by an Israeli settler, Israeli army radio reported.

Also, a Jewish settler was arrested for allegedly shooting a 13-year-old Palestinian boy on Saturday, Yaffe said. He did not name the suspect.

The boy, Mansur Dshaber, was shot while a group of settlers was taking over his uncle's house, Yaffe said. The settlers, acting in response to a drive-by shooting attack, were later forced out of the house by police and soldiers. The boy was recuperating in a Jerusalem hospital.


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