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Violence Tests Progress of 'Road Map' Peace Plan - 2003-07-03

Two violent incidents overnight in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are testing the fragile progress made so far in implementing the international road map for peace. Israeli forces shot and killed one man in Qalqilya and arrested more than a dozen men in raids in three other West Bank towns.

The dead man, Mohammed Shawer, was an assistant of Ibrahim Mansour the local leader of the militant al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Israelis say he was shot trying to flee as they arrested Mr. Mansour who was said to have been behind the shooting death of a foreign worker earlier this week.

In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, four rockets were fired at the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom overnight lightly wounding four Israelis. Israel responded by sending troops in to temporarily block traffic on the main north-south highway in Gaza which was just opened to Palestinian traffic after being closed by Israeli troops for nearly three years.

It is not clear who fired the rockets, which were of a type first developed by the militant group Hamas. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah have all agreed to a temporary three-month ceasefire on all attacks against Israelis.

The latest incidents are seen as a test of the efforts made so far to push the road map forward and the durability of the cease-fire.

Meanwhile, President Bush spoke by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Wednesday night. Reports said Mr. Bush commended the Israeli leader on his government's decision to pull out of much of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

The American leader has said Israelis and Palestinians are making progress in implementing the road map but said militant groups, like Hamas, could threaten the process.

Israel radio reported that Israeli and Palestinian officials are to meet again Thursday for discussions on a possible Israeli withdrawal of other West Bank cities.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has said he would like to see a complete Israeli pullout of Palestinian areas within six weeks.