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Israelis kill 8 Palestinians in Gaza City gunbattles


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli troops in tanks and armored vehicles rumbled into a neighborhood of Gaza City yesterday, killing eight Palestinians in fierce gunbattles that cast a pall over efforts by an American envoy to revive the flagging Middle East peace effort.

Early today an explosion went off on a bus in Jerusalem, near Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's official residence, and police said five people were killed and dozens were wounded.

The blast went off on Gaza Street in downtown Jerusalem, about 100 yards from Sharon's residence. The explosion turned the bus into a twisted wreck. Glass was shattered everywhere and the roof was blown off.

Yesterday's fighting in the crowded Zeitun neighborhood was the heaviest in Gaza City in months, and Palestinians said that both militants and bystanders were among the dead. The Israeli army said it hit only gunmen.

The violence flared as the U.S. envoy, John Wolf, met in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in an effort to restart peace negotiations.

The army said it had targeted militants in Zeitun who had repeatedly attacked the adjacent Israeli settlement of Netzarim and army positions around it with mortars, rockets and roadside bombs.

"Our operation was intended to disrupt the freedom of action of the terrorists who have stepped up their activities in the area," said Lt. Col. Udi Ben-Moha, operation commander.

A military spokeswoman said a force positioned a few hundred yards from Netzarim to repel an expected attack on the settlement responded when gunmen set off explosive charges and fired mortars at the troops.

During the close-quarters fighting in Zeitun, masked gunmen in camouflage fatigues and brandishing rocket-propelled grenade launchers confronted lumbering tanks in an area of car-repair shops and metalwork factories along the Salah a-Din Road leading south from Gaza toward Netzarim.

Ben-Moha said his troops had shot militants who carried machine guns, explosives, homemade anti-tank weapons and grenade launchers.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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