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Thursday, 27 September, 2001, 22:26 GMT 23:26 UK
Deaths mar hopes for Mid-East truce
Palestinians bury one of those who died in overnight fighting
There was already scepticism about the truce talks
Five Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops within a day of an agreement by both sides to seek a permanent ceasefire.

Three people were killed and dozens wounded in a gun battle overnight near the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

Later on Thursday a 15-year-old boy was shot dead by Israeli soldiers, who then killed a Palestinian man wandering near a Jewish settlement. Palestinian officials said the man, who was mentally disturbed, was riddled with bullets.

The latest deaths have increased pessimism about an accord which many already believe has little chance of success.

The Palestinians accused Israel, which on Thursday marked the holiest day in the Jewish calendar - Yom Kippur, of attacking Rafah in the hope of destroying any chances for peace.

"These aggressive attacks prove to the world that the enemies of peace in Israel are determined to continue their aggressive war against the Palestinian people," said Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo.

US involvement

Under intense US pressure, Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met on Wednesday for the truce talks, which ended in an agreement to consolidate the shaky ceasefire, but no joint press conference.

Washington believes that peace in the Middle East will bolster its efforts to build an anti-terrorism global coalition, hoping to get Arab states on board.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
The two had to be asked to shake hands
If a lasting peace is established on the ground, both sides can then set about resurrecting the stalled peace process - including tackling the issues of Palestinian statehood and the final status of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have insisted on a broader agenda, to include a timetable for lifting Israeli roadblocks and travel restrictions, which have crippled the Palestinian economy.

Correspondents say that security cooperation meetings with Palestinians and Israelis are due to start on Friday.

US officials are also expected to attend, after US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Washington was looking to step up its role in the region following the meeting.

But the fragile truce may again be put to the test on Friday, the first anniversary of the Palestinian uprising - or intifada - for which several groups are planning demonstrations.

The BBC's Peter Biles
"The trust between the two sides is at rock bottom"
The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"Gaza is extremely tense"
See also:

27 Sep 01 | Middle East
Washington buys time in Middle East
20 Sep 01 | Middle East
Killing mars Mid-East ceasefire
23 May 01 | Middle East
Q&A: Mitchell report
18 Sep 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Mid-East chance of peace
22 Sep 01 | Middle East
New EU peace drive in Mid-East
20 Sep 01 | Middle East
Risks and rewards of Mid-East truce
22 Sep 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Arafat's changed world
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