Mon, Mar 21, 2005 - Page 6 News List

West Bank gun battle breaks calm

FRESH STRIFE Gunmen wounded three Israeli soldiers while a policeman shot another Palestinian in a separate incident, ending a formal ceasefire


Palestinian gunmen shot and wounded three Israeli soldiers and a policeman yesterday while soldiers wounded a Palestinian in a separate West Bank shooting, the Israeli military and police said.

The shootings disrupted the calm of a ceasefire declared by both sides last month and a conditional truce agreed by most Palestinian militants at a meeting in Cairo last week.

The military said troops were ambushed as they escorted policemen searching for stolen cars in a refugee camp south of the West Bank city of Ramallah. Three soldiers and a policeman were wounded, one seriously, a statement said.

Other troops fired back at the Palestinians and launched searches.

In the other incident, soldiers shot and wounded a Palestinian man at a roadblock near the West Bank town of Bethlehem as he tried to steal a gun from a policeman, an Israeli police spokesman said.

In other developments, an extensive aerial photography operation carried out for Israel's Defense Ministry has revealed considerable new building in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, an Israeli newspaper reported yesterday, an apparent violation of Israeli obligations under a US-backed Middle East peace plan.

Expansion of Israeli settlements runs counter to the "road map" peace plan, which calls for a complete freeze on settlement construction, including that resulting from natural population growth. Israel and the Palestinians accepted the plan in 2003 but its implementation has stalled amid violations by the sides.

The Haaretz daily said the photography operation, completed in recent weeks, included all the Israeli settlements and authorized settlement outposts in the West Bank.

It said that between the summer of 2004 and early 2005 the photographs showed there had been major settlement construction, including in the large settlements of Maale Adumim, Ariel and the Gush Etzion bloc.

A spokesman for the US Embassy in Tel Aviv said the US expected Israel to abide by its road map commitments.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has stated that he intends to keep Maale Adumim, Ariel and the Gush Etzion bloc in any final agreement. They are home to an estimated 80 percent of the 220,000 Israeli settlers living among 2.1 million Palestinians in the West Bank.

Palestinians say continued Israeli control over those areas would make it impossible for them to form a viable, contiguous state.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat condemned the reported settlement expansion.

"Any settlement continuation at a faster pace puts our effort to revive the peace process into danger," he said. "Everywhere we go in the West Bank we see settlement construction that undermines all the efforts being exerted to revive the hope in the minds of Palestinians that the peace is durable."

A spokeswoman for Israel Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had no immediate comment on the Haaretz report.

The report said Mofaz had ordered the photography operation following a complaint by former chief state prosecutor Talia Sasson that without detailed aerial photographs she would have difficulty completing a report on unauthorized Jewish settlement outposts in the West Bank.

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