Three Israelis were killed and five others were wounded in two shooting incidents near Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israeli army authorities say they will soon enter the town of Bethlehem, near where the shootings took place, to try to find the attackers.
In the first incident, gunmen in a car fired on a crowded bus stop near the Gush Etzion junction, near a large Israeli settlement south of Jerusalem. One Israeli was killed at the site. The others died after being taken to a nearby hospital.
Just a few minutes later, gunmen fired on another bus stop at a junction near the Eli settlement in the central West Bank, seriously wounding at least one Israeli.
The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which has ties to the ruling Fatah Party of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, claimed responsibility for both incidents.
David Baker a spokesman in the Israeli prime minister's office condemned the shootings, saying Palestinian militants had taken advantage of an easing of restrictions on the movement of Palestinians during the holy month of Ramadan.
Raanan Gissin, a senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told VOA recently that it will be difficult for Israeli authorities to hand over more authority to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, if Palestinian security officials do not do more to control militants in their territory.
"The fact is that it is not just the terrorists themselves, which are a threat, but anyone who supports terrorism," said Raanan Gissin. "Anyone who gives shelter to terrorism is also guilty of the same crime. Therefore, we want to make sure that when we hand over to the Palestinians authority for security responsibility, and when we give them measures to ease the daily lives of the Palestinian people, they will be in full control to take advantage of that situation."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas travels to the United States for a meeting with President Bush on Thursday. A planned meeting last week between the Palestinian leader and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was postponed, after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators failed to reach agreement on a common agenda for the meeting.
Meanwhile, in the northern West Bank, Israeli troops shot and killed an Islamic Jihad military commander during an attempt to arrest him. Israeli forces say Nehad Abu Ghanem was killed after he opened fire on Israeli troops south of the town of Jenin.
The violence was the worst since Israel completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last month. In June, two Israeli teenagers were shot and killed in a drive-by shooting near Hebron.
On August 24, five Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops in a West Bank raid, and a British Jew was stabbed to death by a Palestinian.