Jewish settler, Palestinian killed on eve of summit
By Mark Heinrich
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Palestinian militants killed a Jewish settler in the West Bank and Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian in Gaza on Monday in further blows to a rocky cease-fire a day before an Israeli-Palestinian summit.
Tuesday's meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem would be the first of its kind in the holy city at the core of the Middle East conflict.
The summit will focus primarily on steps to prevent militants disrupting Israel's planned August withdrawal from Gaza or filling a feared power vacuum afterwards.
Washington is counting on the pullout to kickstart its Middle East "road map" peace plan. But increasing truce violations and profound differences in Israeli and Palestinian goals for the summit have clouded the diplomatic atmosphere.
The cease-fire declared by Sharon and Abbas at a Feb. 8 summit has faltered with Israel accusing Abbas of not living up to promises to subdue militants, who accuse Israel of provoking them by continuing raids for wanted men.
Islamic Jihad militants in a car opened fire on an Israeli vehicle on a road near a Jewish settlement in the northern West Bank, killing a settler and wounding a second Israeli, before fleeing the scene, the Israeli army said.
"The civilian vehicle was fired upon from at least one other car in a drive-by shooting" and a search for the assailants was under way in a nearby Palestinian town, an army spokesman said.
In Gaza, Israeli troops shot dead a 17-year-old Palestinian civilian and wounded another youth near a road between the border and the settlement of Netzarim, Palestinian medics said.
The army said the two Palestinians had entered a restricted military zone and ignored an order given through loudspeakers to leave. Soldiers fired warning shots and then toward the legs of the Palestinians but could not confirm they were hit, it said.
Israeli troops also apprehended a Palestinian suicide bomber as she tried to enter Israel through Gaza's Erez border crossing with explosives stitched into an undergarment, the army said.
Abbas engineered the truce soon after winning elections in January to succeed the late Gasser Aright, the Palestinians' longtime leader whom Israel accused of inciting bloodshed and never invited to Jerusalem.
Palestinians want Arab East Jerusalem for a future capital. Israel, which captured East Jerusalem -- along with the West Bank and Gaza -- in the 1967 Middle East war, regards the city as its eternal indivisible capital.
Sharon aims to uproot all 8,500 settlers in Gaza and a few hundred of 230,000 in the West Bank to "disengage" from conflict with Palestinians seeking an independent state.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid a weekend visit to dampen tensions over the deteriorating truce that have lowered expectations for Tuesday's summit. She won a general commitment from Sharon and Abbas to coordinate the withdrawal.
In particular, they agreed Israeli troops would raze vacated settler homes and Palestinians would clear the debris for payment so that high rise blocks can be built to ease an acute shortage of good housing in the crowded, impoverished territory.
But Sharon rejected a Rice request that Israel free a greater number of some 8,000 Palestinian prisoners, allow the Palestinians to obtain more weapons for security forces and to rebuild Gaza's airport, a senior Israeli security source said.
The three issues are Abbas priorities and, as tradeoff for ensuring quiet during the pullout, he will also call at the summit for Israel to relinquish its grip on Gaza's borders and allow a free passage corridor with the West Bank, his aides say.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nassau al-Kiddy said Abbas would also demand Israel stop expanding West Bank settlement blocs, which Palestinians fear will deny them a viable state, and commit to "road map" talks after the pullout.
"Sharon will stick to disengagement security issues. Broader concessions would be misguided as long as Abbas takes no action to disarm the armed groups," the Israeli security source said.
Aides say Abbas, who has struggled to control unruly armed factions, fears the cease-fire could unravel if Sharon keeps Gaza isolated after the pullout and shuts the door to broader talks.
(Additional reporting by Nodal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Mohammed Assadi in West Bank)
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