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Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 05:53 GMT
Mid-East killings overshadow talks
Israeli police remove the body of one of the gunmen
The gunmen came from the West Bank town of Jenin
The Palestinian Authority has condemned the killing of three Israelis by Palestinian gunmen, as US envoys began a mission to try to arrange a truce between the two sides.

Two Israelis died and scores were injured when gunmen opened fire in the northern Israeli town of Afula, and an Israeli woman died hours later when Palestinian militants attacked a bus near a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.


This murderous terrorist act is the Palestinian welcome for [US envoys] General Zinni and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns

Avi Pazner
Israeli Government spokesman on Afula attack

The killings came as the US envoys - Anthony Zinni and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns - held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. They are due to meet the Palestinian leadership on Wednesday.

General Zinni said the killings showed the importance of reaching a ceasefire.

In a statement, the Palestinian Authority said it "strongly condemns the two attacks... which targeted Israeli civilians," while Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said the "PLO will deploy a 100 percent effort to consolidate the ceasefire [with Israel]".

'Pressure Arafat'

The BBC's Kylie Morris in Jerusalem says that when the Palestinian delegation meets the Americans, it is expected to emphasise three points - an end to occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian state and a freeze on Israeli settlements.

Ariel Sharon (left) and General Anthony Zinni
The US envoys saw the scene of the attack in Afula from their helicopter
Israel, for its part, has called on the envoys to put pressure on Mr Arafat to crack down on Palestinian militants.

"We don't see a change in Arafat's strategy of violence and terror. If you [US envoys] can successfully change his tactics, it would be a great accomplishment," said a statement from Israeli's defence ministry.

The attack in Afula took place as Mr Sharon took the envoys on a helicopter tour of the West Bank to demonstrate Israel's security concerns.

The helicopter hovered over the scene of the shootings as ambulances took the wounded to hospital.

Minutes earlier, two men opened fire in the centre of the town, spraying bullets into a bus station and a nearby market.

A bystander, Mordechai Cohen, told Israel radio that "terrorists in civilian dress appeared and started to fire".

"They shot the first person in the head. He fell down, they ran toward the market."

Police shot and killed both attackers.

Revenge

Palestinian militant groups Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Brigades said their members had carried out the attack in revenge for the killing of a leader of the military wing of the radical Islamic Hamas movement by Israel last Friday.

The gunmen came from a refugee camp in the Palestinian-controlled town of Jenin on the West Bank, about 15 km (10 miles) from Afula.

The two attacks came hours after Israeli troops pulled out of Jenin, the last of six Palestinian towns occupied by Israeli forces following the assassination of an Israeli minister last month.

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the withdrawal was a gesture of goodwill to coincide with the arrival in Israel of the US envoys.

Their mission follows last week's speech by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in which he spelled out Washington's vision for the Middle East.

The United States has said General Zinni will stay in the region for as long as it takes to bring an end to 14 months of fighting in which nearly 1,000 people - mainly Palestinians - have been killed.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Hawley reports from Jerusalem
"For the Palestinians the American peace initiative got off to an uncomfortable start"
Avi Pazner, Israeli government spokesman
"This is how the Palestinians welcome the peace mission"
Pal. Authority rep. to the US Hasan Abdel Rahman
"Israel also needs to take certain steps"
See also:

04 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israel bus station gunman kills three
26 Nov 01 | Middle East
Arafat faces tide of frustration
26 Nov 01 | Media reports
Mideast papers view US envoys' visit
21 Nov 01 | Middle East
US builds new Mid-East peace initiative
15 Nov 01 | Middle East
Peres backs Palestinian state
01 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israel's 'assassination policy'
19 Oct 00 | Middle East
Who are Hamas?
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