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As War in Iraq Winds Down, Violence Again Rages in Middle East

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Many predicted that deposing Saddam Hussein would change the Israeli- Palestinian dynamic.

This week, however, the dynamic remained the same: violence and Palestinian infighting.

On Sunday, five Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were killed during an Israeli army operation in the southern Gaza Strip.

Three other Israeli soldiers and some 40 Palestinians were wounded Sunday in clashes that erupted during the operation, which targeted a neighborhood, considered to be a militant stronghold, in the city of Rafah.

The Israeli soldier killed in the raid, Sgt. Lior Ziv, 19, from Holon, was a photographer in the Israeli army spokesman’s unit who was documenting the operation.

Also on Sunday, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian teen-ager in the West Bank who had thrown a Molotov cocktail at passing Israeli cars.

A day earlier, Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian journalist working for the Associated Press. Nazeh Darawzeh, who worked for Associated Press Televison News, was killed while filming a clash between the Israeli army and Palestinians in Nablus. Israel said its soldiers, who had been conducting a raid in Nablus, reacted after being surrounded by a group of armed Palestinians throwing stones and firing weapons.

Meanwhile, efforts to appoint a new Palestinian government appeared to be at an impasse.

Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas reportedly threatened to quit over a dispute with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Abbas stormed out of a meeting of the Fatah Central Council in Ramallah on Saturday, when Arafat continued efforts to block Abbas’ plans to name the former Gaza Strip security chief Mohammad Dahlan to a key Cabinet position.

Abbas faced an April 23 deadline to present his Cabinet.

The United States has reportedly conveyed messages to Abbas to stand up to pressure from Arafat on the Cabinet appointments, Israel Radio reported.

In a landmark policy speech last June, President Bush made appointing a new Palestinian leader a cornerstone of U.S. efforts to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Bush has said he intends to present the “road map” for peace soon after a Palestinian prime minister officially takes office.

Conceived by the four players in the Mideast peacemaking “Quartet” — the United States, United Nations, Russia and the European Union — the document calls for a three-stage approach leading to a Palestinian state and a final peace deal within three years.

But the weekend’s events made such a deal appear as elusive as ever.

Israel said it found two tunnels used for smuggling weapons from Egypt during the Rafah raid.

Since the beginning of the year, security forces have demolished 17 tunnels in the area, Israeli officials said.

Shortly after the troops and tanks pulled out of the area, Palestinians fired two Kassam rockets at the Negev town of Sderot.

One of the rockets hit a four-story building, but the only reported injury was a woman suffering from smoke inhalation, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.

Hamas later claimed responsibility for the rocket attack, claiming it was in response to the Israeli operation in Rafah.

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