Six Palestinians died in renewed violence across the Gaza Strip and West Bank on Thursday, according to Palestinian officials, as a private group of prominent Israelis and Palestinians who met secretly in Greece offered a proposal for defusing the conflict.
Israeli troops launched a second day of incursions into the towns of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya and the large Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. Four Palestinians, including a 12-year-old boy, were killed and at least two dozen people wounded, Palestinian hospital officials said. The Israeli military reported no casualties among its soldiers.
Twelve-year-old Munir Dekes was shot in the head outside of his grandfather's home in the Jabalya camp, the hospital officials said. An Israeli military spokesman, Capt. Jacob Dallal, said he had no information on such an incident.
Throughout Thursday, Palestinian militants fired guns, mortars and grenades at Israeli armored vehicles and troops from a number of places, according to Dallal.
Palestinian witnesses said tanks and Apache helicopters fired randomly between houses and into empty farms and fields. Dallal said the Israeli forces were trying to stop Palestinians from firing crudely made Qassam rockets into Israeli communities just outside the Gaza Strip.
Israeli soldiers also shot and killed an unarmed Palestinian man Thursday morning near the Israeli settlement of Gush Katif in the southern Gaza Strip, according to Dallal, who said the man was about five yards from a fence in a zone where Palestinians were not allowed.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, a 19-year-old Palestinian was killed after being run over by an Israel army jeep that was trying to escape a mob pelting army vehicles with stones, the Associated Press reported.
The new round of violence, the worst in months, began when two Palestinian suicide bombers blew up two commuter buses last week in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, killing 16 people in addition to themselves. Early Tuesday, the Israeli military launched missile strikes on a Gaza soccer field where the militant group Hamas, known formally as the Islamic Resistance Movement, was training fighters. Fourteen militants were killed.
Israel also issued a new warning to Yasser Arafat. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Thursday that the day "is closer than ever" when his government "will remove" the Palestinian leader.
The clashes came as a group of prominent Israelis and Palestinians warned that immediate action was needed to implement Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw Israeli troops and Jewish settlers from Gaza. In a soon-to-be-issued report, they said collapse of the plan could "lead to a catastrophic series of events that will doom progress for a generation" in efforts to establish peace.
The 10-page report, a copy of which was given to The Washington Post, was crafted in July at a secret meeting in Greece. Seven Israelis attended, including former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh of the Labor Party and David Kimche, a former top official in the Mossad intelligence agency and the Foreign Ministry. There were five Palestinians there, including Mohammed Rashid, one of Arafat's most trusted advisers, and Iyad Sarraj, a leading Gaza human rights activist.
Sneh said that the group wanted to "prepare a plan to turn the disengagement in Gaza into a springboard to continue with a more comprehensive peace process."
In addition to the withdrawal of troops and settlers from Gaza, the group proposes that Israel disengage from the West Bank between the towns of Nablus and Jenin, an area that contains about 16 Jewish settlements and covers the northernmost quarter of the West Bank. Under the proposal, Israel would also restrict the growth of settlements, remove unauthorized settlement outposts, lift transportation restrictions in the West Bank and reopen a safe passageway between Gaza and the West Bank.
The Palestinians would be required to reform their security forces, disarm all militant groups and confiscate their weapons, cease all hostilities against Israel and end the manufacturing and smuggling of weapons and ammunition.
If those tasks were accomplished, the report said, Israel should end the targeted killing of Palestinian radicals and stop military incursions into Gaza and the West Bank.