Progress Amid Gunfire In Mideast

A Palestinian woman talks to an Israeli soldier as she crosses a checkpoint between the West Bank village of El Khader and the outskirts of Jerusalem Tuesday Oct. 28, 2003.
AP
Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man and wounded another Wednesday after the pair crossed into a restricted area around the fence that separates Gaza from Israel, military sources said.

In the northern West Bank, Palestinian militants shot at Jewish settlers traveling in a car Wednesday, wounding two of them, military officials said. One of the wounded was in serious condition, Israel Radio reported.

Police spokesman Doron Ben-Amo said the West Bank shooting took place near the settlement of Kadim, outside the Palestinian town of Jenin. Jewish settlers have been targeted in the area several times over the past three years of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials said they were considering slightly easing month-old closures that have kept millions of Palestinians out of Israel and confined many to their West Bank communities.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia Tuesday said the militant groups have agreed to talks on a new cease-fire. However, he said no date has been set for the meetings. Qureia currently heads an emergency Cabinet that will expire next Tuesday. He has not said whether he is accepting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's request that he remain as prime minister.

Two people approached the fence from the Gaza side near Nahal Oz on Wednesday morning, entering the 150-yard-wide restricted zone, before troops opened fire, the army said.

One man was killed and the other wounded. The men had no weapons, but were carrying cellular phones, maps of the area and intelligence about army patrols there, the military said. They were apparently collecting information for a future attack, the military said.

The dead man's family identified him as Mohammed Awad, 26, a supporter of the Islamic Jihad militant group.

The army said militants often planned attacks in the area and three soldiers where wounded during an attack there last month.

Israel is accelerating the building of its controversial West Bank security barrier, despite US and international opposition, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has denied allegations by the Bush administration, that Israel is unilaterally drawing a border by building the West Bank security barrier.

"The fence is not a political border," he said. "The fence is an additional means of preventing terror."

Sharon said the reason the Palestinians oppose the fence is because it will limit their ability to use terror to pressure Israel.

Army officials have expressed concern that continuing restrictions on Palestinians are fostering hatred of Israel, strengthening militant groups and creating the kind of atmosphere that leads to more attacks, according to media reports.

Army officials were trying to persuade the government to lift the closures placed on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip before the Jewish New Year holiday last month because of increased concerns about attacks. The closure, which had been extended through a series of Jewish holidays over the past month, prevented nearly 3 million Palestinians from traveling to Israel and leaving their communities.

The restrictions have also kept many Palestinian farmers from their fields, badly damaging the annual olive harvest.

Officials were considering letting 3,000 West Bank merchants enter Israel and allowing 1,500 Palestinians to enter the Israeli-controlled Atarot industrial park in the West Bank, but cities would remain surrounded, according to Army radio.

Israeli has repeatedly clamped tight closures around Palestinian communities over the past three years of violence when the threat of militant attacks is high. Some in the government have been reluctant to relax the current restrictions for fear of more attacks.

"It's very clear that any pressure on the Palestinian population is going to in the end create new terror. It's not a simple dilemma, how we should deal with this," Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim told Army radio.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Salah Assad died Wednesday of shrapnel injuries he suffered during an Israeli missile strike last week in the Nusseirat refugee camp, bringing the number killed in the attack to 12.

The strike was part of ongoing violence on both sides that has stalled the U.S.-back road map peace plan. The plan is also on hold amid efforts to form a stable Palestinian government.