Wed, Jan 28, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Violence clouds US envoy’s first Middle East peace mission

AFP , GAZA CITY

A Palestinian was shot dead and an Israeli soldier reportedly killed in a blast yesterday as the deadliest flare-up since the end of the Gaza conflict cast a dark shadow over the new US peace envoy’s maiden mission to the region.

The soldier was killed and three others wounded when an explosion struck an army patrol near the border with Gaza, the Dubai-based television channel al-Arabiya reported, citing one of its correspondents in Israel.

Qatar-based al-Jazeera television reported that the soldier was killed when a shell hit a group of Israeli troops.

Security sources in Israel confirmed an explosion near an army unit patrolling the border close to the Kissufim crossing but did not comment on casualties.

“An explosive device was detonated near an army force patrolling the border on the Israeli side,” a security source said on condition of anonymity.

Palestinians living near the area of Khan Yunis reported hearing tank fire and said Israeli warplanes were flying over the area. The army patrol and Palestinian gunmen exchanged fire after the blast, they said.

A 24-year-old Palestinian, Anwar al-Dreim, was killed by Israeli fire in the area shortly afterwards, medics said.

It marked the most serious violence since Israel and Hamas declared unilateral ceasefires on Jan. 18, ending the Jewish state’s 22-day war on the Islamist stronghold, and came as US President Barack Obama’s new Middle East envoy George Mitchell headed to the region for his first visit.

Obama instructed Mitchell, who played a prominent role in the Northern Ireland peace process, to “engage vigorously” to achieve real progress between Israel and the Palestinians.

In an interview with al-Arabiya, the US president said: “I do believe the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. Instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.”

Mitchell was to start his mission in Egypt, which has played a central role in efforts to consolidate the fragile ceasefires in Gaza into a lasting truce.

Egypt has been holding separate talks with Israeli and Hamas officials, as well as representatives of other Palestinian militant groups.

It has proposed that a yet to be agreed truce between Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza begin next Thursday, an official of the leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine told reporters on Monday.

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