mega888 Israel kills four in raid, ‘Geneva accord’ launched
Israel kills four in raid, ‘Geneva accord’ launched
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Israel kills four in raid, ‘Geneva accord’ launched

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli forces killed four Palestinians, including a boy of six, in a major West Bank raid on Monday that provided a sharp contrast to the festive launch in Geneva of a symbolic Middle East peace accord.

The push into Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s base city Ramallah coincided with a U.S. diplomatic mission that won an Israeli pledge to start removing Jewish settler outposts as required by an internationally backed “road map” peace plan.

An Israeli army spokesman said special forces killed three Islamic militants who opened fire at them. Witnesses said one died in a building destroyed after he refused to surrender.

Palestinian medics said Israeli troops shot the boy in a Ramallah refugee camp. Military sources said soldiers clashed with stone-throwers and the shooting was under investigation.

In house-by-house searches, soldiers arrested 29 members of the Islamist group Hamas wanted in connection with 10 bombings that killed 68 people in Israel, the army said. Troops also blew up three buildings they said were used to store explosives.

Later on Monday, ceasefire talks that Palestinian militants planned to hold in Cairo were postponed. Participants said they were unlikely to declare a truce unless Israel reciprocated.

The alternative “Geneva Accord” peace plan, agreed by Israeli opposition doves and Palestinian politicians, has raised public pressure for both sides to start talking in earnest.

It was unveiled at a glitzy ceremony in Geneva attended by world leaders past and present, who spoke of new hope in a long insoluble conflict. But Israel’s right-wing government and Palestinian militants have denounced the pact as “capitulation”.

ACCORD CONDEMNED

Thousands of Palestinian militants, including fighters from Arafat’s Fatah faction and refugees from past wars with Israel, rallied to condemn the plan and brand its supporters “traitors”.

In Israel, criticism was heard from the right-leaning government, as well as from some 250 rabbis who issued a religious ruling branding the peace deal treason.

“This accord plays into the hands of our enemies. The main problem is the Palestinians do not really intend to commit to deals they sign,” said Danny Naveh, an Israeli cabinet minister.

Like the official road map plan, the Geneva Accord prescribes a Palestinian state in Israeli occupied territory. But it goes beyond the road map by calling for the removal of Jewish settlements and the right for Israel to decide how many Palestinian refugees to accept.

Israel’s right believes leaving settlements would erode its security and abandon what it sees as a biblical birthright to the land. Militants fume at the deal’s failure to guarantee a Palestinian “right of return” to homes in what is now Israel.

A new opinion poll showed more Israelis were warming to the accord, with 31 percent in favour and 37 percent against compared with 25 and 54 percent respectively in October, hinting at rising discontent with an intransigent leadership.

Arafat and his prime minister, Ahmed Qurie, have approved the Geneva initiative in principle but not the details.

Israel said military incursions aimed to thwart attacks on Israelis. In the West Bank city of Tulkarm, troops shot and wounded a militant before arresting him and four other Palestinians, witnesses said.

Palestinian officials said such raids risked provoking militants to hit back.

U.S. envoy William Burns swung through the region at the weekend trying to clear hurdles to resuming road map talks.

Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told Burns at a meeting that six to 10 small West Bank settlement outposts would be dismantled, a government source said.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Gwen Ackerman and Maia Ridberg)

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