Israeli settler killed, wife injured in West Bank

THE BALTIMORE SUN

JERUSALEM - Palestinian gunmen shot and killed an Israeli settler and wounded his pregnant wife in the West Bank yesterday, as Israeli forces raided the northern Gaza Strip for a second day, bulldozing orchards and brush after Palestinian rockets were fired from the area.

The United States promised millions of dollars to help rebuild the town of Beit Hanoun, where many homes were demolished and whole orchards were razed during the Israeli operation. Israeli forces were again on the outskirts of Beit Hanoun yesterday.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus, Israeli troops continued house-to-house searches for weapons and Palestinian militants.

Israeli forces had withdrawn from northern Gaza at the end of June, returning security responsibility to Palestinian forces in one of the highest-profile steps under the U.S.-backed "road map" to peace.

The peace plan has substantially unraveled since a Hamas suicide bomber killed 21 people aboard a bus in Jerusalem on Aug. 19.

Israel has begun a new campaign to kill Hamas militants and leaders, and Hamas returned to firing its crude rockets over Gaza's fenced boundary into Israel. The Israeli army says militants hide in the orchards to fire their rockets.

In the past week, Hamas has fired more than a dozen rockets, including one on Thursday that landed just south of the city of Ashkelon, the deepest strike yet. No one was injured.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has taken some steps against Hamas, including freezing bank accounts controlled by Islamic charities. But Israel is demanding more action.

In a meeting with members of the U.S. Congress on Thursday night, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the United States could apply more pressure to the Palestinians by linking U.S. financial aid to their efforts on shutting down groups such as Hamas.

The Palestinians are receiving about $200 million from the United States this year, most of it indirectly. Last month, Washington gave the Palestinians about $20 million directly, intending to strengthen Abbas. Israel gets billions of dollars a year from the United States.

Under the first of the peace plan's three phases, the Palestinian Authority is supposed to begin dismantling militant groups. Israel is supposed to halt the growth of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Pinhas Wallerstein, a settler leader, told Israeli radio that the two Israelis attacked yesterday had just dropped off a 1-year-old child and were on their way to observe the Sabbath with family members when they came under fire.

The man who was killed was identified as Shalom Harmelech, 25. His wife, in her seventh month of pregnancy, underwent an emergency Caesarean section and delivered a healthy baby girl, hospital officials said. The woman was expected to recover from her wounds.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a violent offshoot of the Fatah faction of Abbas and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, took responsibility for the shooting, which occurred northeast of Ramallah.

Silvan Shalom, the Israeli foreign minister, said Israel would respond to the attack, which he said demonstrated that "the Palestinians even now are not willing to do anything to put an end to the terrorism."

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