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Violence surges in Israel

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JERUSALEM, April 10 (JTA) — Israeli-Palestinian violence is surging again as President Bush continues to signal his determination to press ahead with the diplomatic “road map” toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. At least seven Palestinians and two Israelis were killed in clashes this week. Following a period of relative quiet during the early weeks of the war in Iraq, two Israeli soldiers were killed and nine others wounded Thursday when two Palestinian gunmen near an army base in the northern West Bank. The gunmen cut through the fence surrounding the base and opened fire. One of the terrorists was killed in the ensuing exchange of fire with forces. The other was killed following a chase. The two soldiers killed were Staff Sgt. Yigal Lifshitz, 20, from Rishon le-Zion, and Staff Sgt. Ofer Sharabi, 21, from Givat Shmuel. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian claimed responsibility for what it said was a joint attack with the Al-Aksa Brigade, an offshoot of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction. The two gunmen were identified as Nablus residents. Also Thursday, Palestinians said an armed gunman was killed and four were wounded by Israeli undercover forces in the West Bank town of Tulkarm. Several hours after the Tulkarm attack, a senior Islamic Jihad militant was killed in an Israeli helicopter strike in the Gaza Strip. At least 10 other people were injured. The Islamic Jihad militant was identified as Mahmoud Zatme, wanted by Israel for involvement in several terrorist attacks, including a 1995 double-suicide bombing in Beit Lid that killed 22 Israeli soldiers and civilians. On Tuesday, a senior Hamas militant wanted by Israel, Saed Arbid, was killed in a similar Israeli missile strike in the Gaza Strip. Also killed was an Arbid aide and three other people. The strike also injured dozens of bystanders. The increased violence came as President Bush reiterated his determination this week to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. At a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush stressed his plans to publish the road map once the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, presents his new Cabinet. Abbas received a two-week extension from the Palestinian legislative council this week to continue assembling government. Media reports described difficulties in his efforts, amid strains between Abbas and Arafat over key Cabinet appointments, including the position of interior minister, which controls the various Palestinian security forces. Israeli political and defense officials have welcomed Abbas’ appointment, saying he appears willing to try to combat terror. But they are guarded in their comments, waiting to see whether he will be granted meaningful authority in the Palestinian government. According to reports, Arafat is trying to limit Abbas’ power. In another development, the Israeli army on Thursday was to begin releasing some of the 12,000 reservists who had been called up for home front defense duties during the war in Iraq. At the same time, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz announced that the level of civil alert declared at the outbreak of the war would remain unchanged for now. Until the threat of a possible Iraqi attack on Israel was “completely removed,” the level of alert could not be lowered, Mofaz said. The decision came as a surprise. Israelis had expected Mofaz to declare a lowering of the alert in light of the allied forces’ success in Iraq. Ahead of the announcement, one Israeli radio talk show had asked listeners for suggestions on what to do with the plastic sheeting that had been used to create sealed rooms as protection against possible Iraqi nonconventional attacks. Responses included using the sheeting to make shower curtains, to cover cabinets not being used over the Passover holiday, and to do what some people did after the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 — fold up the sheeting and store it for the next threat.

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