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Deadly West Bank Bombing

Palestinian militants detonated explosives near a busy checkpoint north of Jerusalem on Wednesday, killing two Palestinian men and wounding 13 people, including both Israelis and Palestinians, in the first bombing attack in a month.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a violent group with ties to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility but said its original intention was not to bomb the checkpoint, through which thousands of Palestinians pass every day.

The intention was to carry out an attack in Jerusalem, but the man carrying the 44 pounds explosives had to abandon them near the checkpoint as security forces closed in, Zakariye Zubeydi, 29, a leader of the group, told The Associated Press.

"We found ourselves forced to detonate it (the bomb) at the spot," Zubeydi said.

Zubeydi said the group is sorry for the Palestinian casualties. He said Al Aqsa said it carried out the bombing to avenge the killing of a leader by Israeli troops in the West Bank last month.

It was not clear what happened to the man who detonated the blast. In setting off the explosives, he would have known there was a high probability of Palestinian casualties.

Kalandia, north of Jerusalem and south of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, is one of the busiest checkpoints in the West Bank, with Palestinians on foot or in cars. It is located near the separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank to keep out Palestinian militants.

In other developments in the Mideast:

  • Israeli forces raided the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis early Wednesday, firing a missile from a helicopter, as military activity continued alongside preparations for an Israeli pullout. Palestinian hospital officials said 12 people were wounded in the missile strike, three critically.
  • Egypt, warning of chaos when Israel withdraws from Gaza, has offered to train Palestinian security forces and has urged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to restructure the forces.
  • On Tuesday, Palestinian legislators pressing Arafat for reforms came away disappointed from a meeting with the veteran leader. Arafat's one-man rule has long troubled foreign critics, and corruption and disarray inside his Palestinian Authority are seen as stumbling blocks to Mideast peace.

    In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell told a group of foreign youths that Arafat "occupies a unique place in the minds of hearts of his people." Powell added, "We have been disappointed by his actions over the years," and called on him to give power to his prime minister.

    In recent weeks, Palestinian reformers have gone public with criticism of Arafat, breaking with their practice of grumbling in private while presenting a united front behind Arafat in public. Parliament set up a 14-member committee to investigate the government crisis and issue a report on reform.

    Legislators met twice with Arafat in recent days, demanding that he put his reform promises in writing, but they said Tuesday that he remained evasive. Arafat handed the team a three-page letter, but his only concession was a guarantee that the prime minister could appoint Cabinet ministers, participants said.

    "President Arafat's letter was not encouraging," said lawmaker Jamal Shati.

    Arafat also avoided a clear answer on security reform, participants said on condition of anonymity.

    Abbas Zaki, who heads the parliamentary committee, said legislators would try to hold one more meeting with Arafat, and would issue their final report next week.

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