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2 Palestinians Killed in Israeli Operation - 2003-01-31


Two Palestinians were killed during an Israeli military operation in the West Bank town of Jenin early Friday. The operation is part of a sweep by Israeli security forces, tracking down suspected militants in the Palestinian territories.

The two dead men were identified as Hamas activist Iyad Musa and an employee of the Palestinian fire department.

Israeli troops apparently surrounded the Jenin fire station, where Mr. Musa was located. The soldiers called on everyone to come out with their hands up. Military sources say, the firemen came, but all of a sudden, they say, Mr. Musa began shooting. The soldiers returned fire, killing the suspected Hamas militant. There are differing reports on whether the second man, the fire department employee, was killed by gunfire from Mr. Musa or from the soldiers.

The fighting comes on the heels of violence Thursday that left five Palestinians dead during Israeli operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli troops have re-occupied seven of the eight major population centers in the West Bank since last June, following a series of Palestinian suicide bomb attacks in Israel. Israeli troops also make regular incursions into the Gaza Strip in search of suspected militants. Gun battles frequently erupt during these operations.

On the political front, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has begun meetings with potential coalition partners. Mr. Sharon and his right-wing Likud Party won a landslide victory in elections on Tuesday. But Likud still lacks the 61 seats required for an outright parliamentary majority, and so, Mr. Sharon will be tasked to look to other parties as potential partners in a new government.

Mr. Sharon invited Tommy Lapid, the leader of the secular Shinui Party, to meet with him Friday. Shinui came in third in the elections. So far, Mr. Lapid has said he would not join a coalition, if it includes ultra-orthodox religious parties. Mr. Sharon's main rival, the left-of-center Labor Party, which barely managed to hold on to second place in the elections, has so far refused to join a Likud-led coalition. Mr. Sharon is expected to talk with Labor leader Amram Mitzna on Monday.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav meets with Mr. Sharon next week, and will officially task him with forming a coalition government. Mr. Sharon then has 42 days to do so.

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