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Israeli Soldiers Shoot Palestinian Child

Israeli soldiers shot and killed an 8-year-old Palestinian boy during a raid on Tuesday, Palestinians said, and a high-level Israeli-Palestinian meeting tentatively set for Tuesday to discuss an end to more than two years of violence failed to take place.

Palestinians said Israeli troops surrounded two houses in the West Bank town of Qalqiliya, searching for militants, and Palestinians threw firebombs at them. The boy was killed and nine other people wounded when soldiers fired back, they said.

The Israeli military confirmed that soldiers shot at Palestinians who threw firebombs at them, but did not know if anyone was hit.

In Gaza, soldiers shot and killed a Hamas militant carrying a Kalashnikov rifle near the Kissufim crossing into Israel late Monday, the military said. His body, with a bulletproof vest, was found at daylight Tuesday.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, soldiers shot a suspected Palestinian militant as he fled, the army said. Israel Radio said the Palestinian was killed and was a member of the Tanzim militia, affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

However, activists in the Islamic Jihad said one of their leaders was shot and seriously wounded during a gunbattle.

A meeting tentatively set for Tuesday between a top aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Hani al-Hassan, the Palestinian interior minister, who is in charge of security, did not take place, officials said. The aide, Dov Weisglass, was due to see al-Hassan, but the meeting was postponed for what were described as technical reasons.

Confirming that the meeting did not take place Tuesday, Sharon spokesman Arnon Perlman said it was never finalized. He said it would take place in the coming days.

Sharon met last week with top aides to Arafat, his first direct contact with Palestinian officials in a year, raising prospects of renewed efforts for a truce to stop the violence. Media reports say Israel is offering a gradual process, pulling out of Palestinian towns one by one if Palestinian forces keep militants in check — a formula tried unsuccessfully several times in the past.

Israel clamped a closure on the West Bank and Gaza, banning all Palestinians from entering Israel and maintaining tight travel restrictions in the West Bank, to coincide with the four-day Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice holiday, which began Tuesday. The Israelis cited intelligence warnings that Palestinians were preparing major terror attacks.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said, "The Palestinian Authority is not making any efforts to stop the waves of terror and it is in our hands today."

Arafat charged that Israel was trying to break the Palestinian people through the closure.

"They are insisting on making these troubles against our people, but our people are very strong," Arafat told reporters after attending holiday prayers in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "The mountain will not be shaken by the wind."

Despite the closure order, some Palestinians climbed over walls to enter Jerusalem under the watchful, impassive eyes of Israeli border police on Tuesday. Others said they would circumvent the roadblocks, hiking through fields on dirt paths across the unmarked line between the West Bank and Israel, as hundreds, perhaps thousands do every day to work illegally in Israel.

Before violence erupted in September 2000, more than 100,000 Palestinians worked legally in Israel, and tens of thousands of others entered without permits to find jobs in Israel, a main source of income for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Shortly after the violence erupted, Israel closed its borders, banning all Palestinians, dealing a heavy blow to the Palestinian economy. Since then, about 20,000 workers have received permits, but they, too, were banned by the new closure order.

Meanwhile, a team representing Sharon's Likud Party continued meetings with representatives of some of the 13 parties to be represented in the new parliament, elected Jan. 28. Sharon has six weeks to put together a new ruling coalition. Likud and other hawkish parties have a clear majority in the parliament, but Sharon has said he wants a broad coalition including the dovish Labor Party, which so far has refused to consider his offer.

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