Tension intensifying across
Palestinian territories

One Israeli soldier and two Palestinians were killed when the Israeli army swept into the old town of Jericho in search of two Palestinian fighters.

 

They had escaped after attacking Israeli soldiers, killing one and injuring another.

 

Israeli forces imposed a curfew in Jericho after the attack. Tension was high with Palestinian citizens complained that Jewish settlers in the area were behaving aggressively.

 

Earlier on Sunday four Israeli soldiers were killed in a clash with Palestinian fighters near the Erez border crossing. 

 

Three Palestinian fighters opened fire at the main crossing between the occupied Gaza Strip and Israel, killing the four soldiers  and wounding four others.

 

The operation came after Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian near the Kissufim checkpoint in the occupied Gaza Strip, late on Saturday. Israeli military sources claimed he was armed.

 

In a joint statement, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the Erez operation, saying it was a message that resistance would continue.

 

Hours after the Erez incident, two Israeli soldiers were injured, one seriously, when two Palestinian fighters opened fire at them in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.

 

The soldiers were standing outside Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi mosque. The two Palestinian fighters escaped.

 

Following the attacks, the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas postponed a visit to the occupied Gaza Strip aimed at curbing resistance fighters' activities.

 

However, Abbas told reporters in Ramallah he wanted to avoid armed confrontation with the resistance groups, whose disarming is a requirement of the "roadmap."

 

Powell warns Arafat

 

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Colin Powell told Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that he would be "held to account" if he did anything to undercut the Washington-backed peace "roadmap".

 

"I recognise he is the elected representative of the Palestinian Authority, and he has standing among Palestinians. But now he has got to use whatever standing he has to make sure that terrorism doesn't derail us again, by speaking out against it," Powell said, in a CNN television interview.

 

Powell said if Arafat continued to be a “hindrance”, other nations in the region would have to take a decision whether they wanted to work with someone who was not assisting Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

 

The US national security adviser Condoleeza Rice said the death of four Israeli soldiers on Sunday should not derail the Middle-East peace process.

 

"The parties need to stay on track," Rice said on NBC television's "Meet the Press" programme.

 

Rice said it was important for Israel and the Palestinians to continue to build on the successes forged at the recent Aqaba summit.