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New Israeli-Palestinian violence erupts

New Israeli-Palestinian violence erupts

Israeli-Palestinian violence burst out anew on Monday when a car bomb injured eight people near Tel Aviv airport and Israeli gunfire on a funeral in Gaza killed a Palestinian teenager and wounded 14 others.

Despite the latest bloodshed, Israeli security officials held talks with their Palestinian counterparts from the West Bank at the suburban Tel Aviv residence of the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Palestinian officials said.

The meeting, which followed similar security talks on Saturday, was aimed at coordinating efforts to head off further unrest.

In a sign of the growing concern at the escalating violence, an Israeli official said Foreign Minister Shimon Peres would travel to Washington this weekend for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and possibly President George W. Bush.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whose stepped-up security measures Palestinians blame for escalating bloodshed, said that 53 years after the establishment of the Jewish state its capital was again under threat of siege.

Israeli police said eight people were injured when a nail bomb placed in a stolen car blew up in the central town of Or Yehuda, about 10 km (six miles) from Tel Aviv and near Ben-Gurion international airport.

MILITANTS CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY

It was the fourth explosion in Israel in two days and followed a Palestinian suicide attack on Sunday that killed the bomber and an Israeli doctor in the central town of Kfar Saba, 20 km (12 miles) north of Tel Aviv.

The militant Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility for the suicide attack while an anonymous telephone caller said the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical Palestinian group, carried out the blast in Or Yehuda.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, asked about Israeli accusations that his Palestinian Authority held overall responsibility for such attacks, said: "I want to be very clear. We are against any operation targeting civilians, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians."

He was speaking after a meeting with Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, whose country takes over the European Union presidency in July.

International efforts under way included a U.N. envoy's shuttle mission to Arab capitals, Michel's visit and a review by Palestinians and Israelis of a Jordan-Egypt peace plan.

Palestinians said they foiled an attempted Israeli incursion into their territory in the Gaza Strip and Israel reported a roadside bomb blast near the Jewish settlement of Ariel in the West Bank which caused no casualties.

The Israeli army denied it had tried to make a new incursion and said its forces returned fire after coming under attack.

GUNFIRE ON FUNERAL

In Gaza, Palestinian witnesses said Israeli troops shot at mourners attending the funeral of a Palestinian policeman, killed by Israeli fire last week, as the procession came close to the settlement of Gannei Tal, which is guarded by soldiers.

The army said its soldiers came under fire from the funeral procession and shot back.

Hospital officials said Muhanad Muhared, 14, died in the gunfire at Khan Younis refugee camp, and 14 people were wounded.

A member of Hamas, injured on Sunday when explosives he was preparing blew up in his house in Gaza City, died of his wounds on Monday, medical officials said.

At the southern end of the 45-kilometre (27-mile)-long Gaza Strip, witnesses said gunmen for the first time in the two-week-old surge of violence used anti-tank grenades to beat off the Israeli attempt to destroy homes in Rafah refugee camp.

The witnesses said seven Israeli tanks and two bulldozers backed off under a hail of gunfire at the camp near the Egyptian border, scene of two earlier incursions by Israeli troops.

Sharply criticised by the United States for a large scale move into Gaza a week ago, Israel says it carried out the raids to keep Palestinians from firing mortar bombs and other weapons at Jewish settlements, towns in southern Israel and army posts.

SETTLEMENT TARGETED

Palestinian gunmen opened fire at the Jewish settlement of Gilo, apartment buildings on occupied land that Israel regards as a neighbourhood of Jerusalem.

There were no injuries in the latest in a string of attacks on Gilo, incidents that have in the past drawn heavy Israeli fire on the nearby Palestinian village of Beit Jala, where Israel says gunmen hide.

The death toll in seven months of violence has now reached at least 385 Palestinians, 13 Israeli Arabs and 74 other Israelis.

"With the renewed violence this past week, including escalation on two fronts, there's a dangerous new situation and we're close to a point where violence threatens to spin out of control," U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen told Reuters.

Roed-Larsen said Secretary-General Kofi Annan had sent him on a mission to visit the Palestinians, Israelis, Syrians, and Jordanians in a bid to revive deadlocked peace talks.


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