Seven Palestinians killed in Gaza as Olmert vows to hit back after rocket attacks.
Bush’s visit comes as stepped-up Israeli attacks have killed eight Palestinians in the last two days.
On Monday the Israeli army said it killed two armed Palestinians, including a woman, in northern Gaza and shot dead an armed man in the north of the West Bank.
Israeli forces moved into Gaza after a series of rocket attacks from the territory into southern Israel.
Ehud Barak, the defence minister, ordered the escalation, saying more effective missiles are available in Gaza, referring to a Palestinian rocket that struck the Israeli city of Ashkelon recently.
Five Israeli soldiers were wounded, one seriously, by return fire on Sunday.
Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, protested that Israeli incursions, including a three-day operation in Nablus, were “sabotaging” efforts by the Palestinian Authority to bring security to the West Bank.
Since the conclusion of the US-mediated Annapolis talks, Israel has conducted almost daily raids on targets in the Palestinian territories.
During the final days of November, the day after Annapolis six Palestinians were killed and 22 injured, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.
In December the Israeli army killed 68 people and about 63 were wounded.
|Casualties of conflict|
* In 2007, Israeli security forces killed 373 Palestinians (131 of them civilians, 53 under the age of 18). Palestinians killed 13 Israelis (including seven civilians).
* Palestinians killed in 2007 far below previous years’ figures, especially in 2006 when Israeli forces carried out large-scale military operations in Gaza.
* The 2007 figure is also the lowest number of Israelis killed since the second Palestinian intifada began in 2000, slightly lower than the 17 Israelis civilians killed in 2006.
* Sharp rise in number of Palestinians killed in factional fighting in 2007: 344 in fighting between Hamas and Fatah.
* More Palestinians are being arrested, with 13 per cent increase in those held without charge or trial.
Source: B’Tselem, Israeli human rights group
And so far in January the death toll among Palestinians has risen to 19 whilst 25 have been injured.
On the other side, 11 Israelis were killed in 2007 – two since Annapolis.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mark Regev, spokesman for Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, defended the Israeli military operations.
He said: “We’ve got a situation where the Palestinian security services need to get their act together need to rebuilt, need to be retrained. They need to have their capabilities improved.
“That’s not just the Israeli position, that’s the position of the Arab world, the Europeans, of everyone who has following this process. And so I will say publically and clearly: when Palestinain security is ready to meet the challenges, then Israeli security will not have any need to act.
“If Israel, were to allow a security vaccum to develop in the West Bank … who would enter that security vaccum? Only the extremeists. And not only would innocent people be killed, but you would see the peace process be killed.”
Despite the violence, Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators met on Monday to discuss a plan for tackling the fate of Jerusalem and other “core issues” – future borders and Palestinian refugees – as part of the revived peace process.
Both sides said they hoped to announce agreement on how they will conduct so-called final status negotiations.
|Eight Palestinians have been killed by
Israeli attacks in the last few days [AFP]
The talks in occupied Jerusalem between Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, and Ahmed Qurei, former Palestinian prime minister, will be followed up on Tuesday when Olmert and Abbas meet.
Olmert ordered last week a de-facto halt to new Israeli projects in the West Bank, but has not called off plans to build hundreds of new homes in an area near Jerusalem known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim.
The construction is a violation of a ruling from the Israeli attorney-general to stop applying the “absentee” law in East Jerusalem and has provoked criticism from Washington.
Abbas said on Monday that a future Palestine should be founded alongside Israel, with “Jerusalem as capital of the two states: East Jerusalem for Palestinians and West Jerusalem for the Israelis”.