Soldiers Kill 3 Palestinians in Border Shootout with PLO

Israeli soldiers shot dead a wanted Palestinian and two members of an elite Palestine Liberation Organization unit in a shootout Wednesday on the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

Israel Radio reported Wednesday that the two members of Force 17, a unit that provides bodyguards to PLO leader Yasser Arafat, were apparently trying to help Darwish Abu Khatla infiltrate the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

Abu Khatla, 28, a member of the PLO militia group Fatah Hawks, was wanted for his alleged involvement in past attacks on Israeli troops. He fled from Gaza to Egypt and then went on to Libya in 1990.

Israel Radio reported that Israeli troops spotted Abu Khatla attempting t cross the border and opened fire.

Under the terms of the Palestinian self-rule accord, Israel controls international border crossings into the autonomous areas of Gaza and the West Bank Jericho district.

The two Force 17 members were waiting for Abu Khatla on the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing when the shots erupted.

One of them apparently opened fire on the Israeli soldiers before fleeing. He was spotted by a different group of soldiers, who opened fire, killings him and a second member of the elite Palestinian unit.

The two members of Force 17 were later identified as Abdel Nasser Salah and Hassan Abu Thuraya.

An Arafat spokesman said the two men were not part of Arafat’s presidential guard, adding that they worked at the Rafah crossing point.

The Palestinian Authority issued a mixed messages about the infiltration attempt.

“It was wrong,” said Arafat spokesman Marwan Kanafani. “On the other hand, we can understand the desperation of such an individual.”

Other PLO officials reportedly attempted to distance themselves from the incident and promised a full investigation.

Israel security sources said the area through which Abu Khatla tried to infiltrate is a favorite crossing for smugglers and terrorists.

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