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May 01, 2003

Six killed in Gaza gun battle

At least six Palestinians, including a two-year-old child and 13-year-old boy, have been killed in Gaza during an incursion by Israeli troops, Palestinian officials say.

Witnesses said a gun battle broke out after 10 Israeli tanks and other military vehicles, backed up by helicopters, went into the eastern part of Gaza City.

At least 15 other people were reportedly wounded - several of them seriously - and a house was destroyed.

The raid came hours after the release of an internationally-backed "roadmap" on Wednesday aimed at ending the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

House surrounded

Residents in the Shijaia district of Gaza were reported as saying Israeli troops surrounded the family home of a militant from the Islamic group Hamas just after midnight.

[The roadmap] is a plan to liquidate the Palestinian cause
Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin
Family members inside were told to leave the house but refused, witnesses told Reuters.

An Israeli military source told the Reuters news agency that an operation in Shijaia was under way "against the terrorist infrastructure".

The source said at least six Israeli soldiers had been wounded in the gun battle.

A Palestinian minister, Saeb Erakat, said Israel was using tanks to respond to Wednesday's publication of the "roadmap".

Hours before publication of the "roadmap", a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Tel Aviv cafe killing three people and injuring at least 50.


The peace plan - which has been rejected outright by Hamas - is now being considered by the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

Phase 1 (to May 2003): End of terrorism, normalisation of Palestinian life and Palestinian political reform; Israeli withdrawal and end of settlement activity; Palestinian elections
Phase 2: (June-Dec 2003) Creation of an independent Palestinian state; international conference and international monitoring of compliance with roadmap
Phase 3 (2004-2005): Second international conference; permanent status agreement and end of conflict; agreement on final borders, Jerusalem, refugees and settlements; Arab states to agree to peace deals with Israel

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath called for its immediate implementation, according to Associated Press news agency.

But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in a statement he had received the blueprint "for the purpose of formulating comments on the wording," AP reported.

The "roadmap" has been drafted by envoys from the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.

It calls for an immediate ceasefire, a crackdown on Palestinian militants, an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian towns and the dismantling of Jewish settlements erected since 2001.

It is intended to be a phase-by-phase route to ending conflict, and could lead to full Palestinian statehood as early as 2005.

UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said it was a final plan. "Not one comma, not one word will be changed," he told Reuters news agency. "This is the basis of what we are going to do."

International pressure

The release of the plan came on the back of a new Palestinian administration taking office under Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

In his first policy speech on Tuesday, Mr Abbas - a critic of attacks against Israelis - pledged to control militant groups and illegal weapons.

The new cabinet is the result of intense international pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to give up some of his powers and implement democratic reforms.

Ministers include both critics of Mr Arafat and loyalists from his mainstream Fatah movement.

The US and Israel have refused to deal with Mr Arafat, who remains isolated in Ramallah by Israeli forces.