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Israeli Soldier, Six Palestinians Killed in Gaza Fighting


A period of relative calm in the Gaza Strip was broken by a nearly hour-long battle between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops that left one Israeli soldier and at least six militants dead.

The violence erupted when militants exploded a booby-trapped chicken coop as Israeli troops approached the structure to inspect it. The blast triggered a gun battle that lasted for 45 minutes and involved heavy exchanges of fire. Four militants died in the shootout.

Later, two Palestinian militants were killed in separate Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City. The militant group Islamic Jihad says at least one of its members was killed in the attack.

The militant group Hamas claims responsibility for the setting off the explosive device that killed the Israeli soldier. Islamic Jihad says one of its men was killed by the missile fire by the Israeli aircraft.

The fighting was the first major flare up since the death of Yasser Arafat, November 11. Interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has been trying to negotiate a ceasefire by militant groups, in the run up to the presidential election, January 9. So far. he has gotten no public commitment from the main militant groups to agree to his appeal for calm.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military announced it has ordered the elite navy commando unit - the Shayetet - to cease operations in the West Bank, while investigators look into allegations that the commandos had killed a wounded Palestinian prisoner.

A report by the Israeli human rights group Betselem raises questions about the circumstances of the killing of a wanted member of Islamic Jihad in Jenin, last Friday. The group quotes Palestinian civilians who say they believe the man, Mahmoud Abdel al-Rahman Hammad, was shot to death as he lay on the ground,

wounded and unarmed.

The Jenin incident is the most-recent in a string of events that have raised questions about the behavior of the Israeli military in occupied Palestinian areas.

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