Israeli forces in Gaza kill two Palestinians


JERUSALEM - Israeli forces killed two Palestinians in the southern Gaza Strip yesterday as an Israeli military court gave a 27-year sentence to a Palestinian militant accused of using al-Qaida training to plan attacks against Israelis.

Palestinian officials said that, in separate incidents, Israeli soldiers killed two farmers working in their fields near Gaza's boundary fence. One of the men was identified as Salem Kedeh, 70, and the other as Ayman Abu Shab, 25.

Abu Shab's brother, Zuhair, 27, was wounded, Palestinian officials said.

The Israeli army said that its forces had opened fire once in that area yesterday on two men who were about 60 yards away from the fence in territory the army has declared off-limits to Palestinians. The army said the area was not under cultivation.

The men were digging a hole near where seven bombs had been planted in the past, the army said. An army spokesman said he did not know whether any search had been made at the scene for explosives.

In the first trial by Israel of a Palestinian accused of links to al-Qaida, Nabil Okal, 29, was accused of learning to make bombs in an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan in 1998.

The army said Okal had made bombs, recruited militants and planned attacks against Israelis but was not known to have carried out any attacks.

After his sentencing, Okal protested his innocence to reporters.

The Israeli army said Okal is a member of Hamas, but Palestinian security forces said he has no known link to a militant group. Palestinians are as eager to deny any connections to al-Qaida as Israel is to identify and publicize them.

According to Okal's indictment, he met with a top aide to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in March 1998 in Kabul. He was then sent to an al-Qaida training camp in Jalalabad, according to the indictment.

On returning to the Gaza Strip, he met with Sheik Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of Hamas, and received the sheik's support to establish a terrorist cell, according to the indictment.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of the dominant Likud Party met with Labor leader Amram Mitzna in a bid to form a broad coalition government. But Mitzna said Sharon appeared unwilling to revise his views in line with Labor's, including those on what Labor considers the need to evacuate some Israeli settlements.

Sharon's office said that in the meeting here yesterday, the prime minister urged Mitzna to join a broad coalition government left to address Israel's economic and security problems. But Mitzna said he heard nothing yesterday that would cause him to abandon a pledge not to join a coalition led by Sharon.

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