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2 Jews, 5 Palestinians Dead in New Violence

Two Jewish religious students were stabbed in Jerusalem's Old City, Wednesday night, while in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, five Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops looking for militants.

The historic withdrawal of Jewish settlers had only just ended when violence once again flared.

Two Jewish religious students were attacked near the Jaffa Gate, in Jerusalems Old City. One of them, Shmuel Mat of Great Britain, died from his wounds. The second victim, from the United States, was hospitalized.

In the West Bank, Thursday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia condemned the killing of the Palestinians in Tulkarem as a brutal crime. Israeli officials said the men were all militants, but local residents said that two of the dead were unarmed teenagers

Palestinian militant groups - Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - have issued calls for revenge for the Tulkarem raid.

Prime Minister Qureia also criticized Israeli plans to confiscate land around the large settlement, Maaleh Adumim, near Jerusalem, for the construction of the barrier Israel is building all across the West Bank. He says. with these actions, there will be no room for a viable Palestinian state and no hope for peace.

Meanwhile, a political battle is shaping up in Israel, as politicians within Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party position themselves to oust him as party leader.

Mr. Sharon's decision to withdraw Jewish settlements from Gaza and small portions of the West Bank has cost him dearly and recent opinion polls show an erosion of support for him as party chief among rank and file Likud voters.

The disengagement has also cost Mr. Sharon considerable support in his government, with several right-wing cabinet ministers having resigned over it. Mr. Sharon's government was prevented from collapsing because of support from several opposition parties, including the secular Shinui Party.

Wednesday, Shinui leader Josef "Tommy" Lapid said. once the disengagement is complete - with the demolition of the buildings in the settlements and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza - Mr. Sharon could no longer count on support from Shinui.

"This is the end of support we promised the Sharon government," he said.

Mr. Lapid says that means there will be early elections. "We are the largest opposition party and we want to bring the elections closer, because Likud is hopelessly split," he said.

The Shinui Party leader is not alone in that view. A senior Sharon advisor told VOA that early elections are nearly a certainty.

Some of his top advisors are telling Mr. Sharon to leave Likud and form a new political party of his own. But, Mr. Sharon said just last week that he was a founder of Likud and has no intention of leaving.