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4 Palestinians Killed in Gaza Clash


Four Palestinians were killed and at least 15 injured on Saturday during what the Israeli army said was an attempt by militants to attack its positions at the Erez border crossing in the Gaza Strip.

One of the militants, driving a jeep that had been disguised to look like an Israeli military vehicle, managed to pull up to an Israeli position and open fire. The army said its forces returned fire, killing the man. There were no Israeli casualties.

The military said a second attacker blew himself up in a vehicle on the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing, after he was blocked from entering the border area. But Palestinian witnesses said the vehicle blew up outside the Palestinian police checkpoint, after Israeli troops fired on it. A witness described a massive explosion that destroyed the vehicle, and blew the occupant to pieces.

The militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. A message on the Hamas Web site called it a joint "self-sacrifice operation." The announcement said it was in response to recent Israeli helicopter gunship attacks in Gaza that killed several Hamas members.

There are concerns that violence in Gaza could escalate in a power vacuum that could develop, if Israel goes ahead with plans to withdraw from the territory. It is feared militant groups might try to take control of the territory from the Palestinian Authority.

The United States has not rejected the withdrawal plan, but has expressed reservations about it in recent meetings with Israeli officials. On Friday, Israel's Maariv newspaper reported that the Americans have asked Israel to delay the withdrawal, until after the U.S. elections. The paper said Washington is concerned a pullout could further destabilize an already bad situation. The Israeli government denied the Maariv report, saying that no dates for a possible withdrawal were discussed during the meetings with the American officials.

In the West Bank on Saturday, a 19-year-old Palestinian policeman was killed by Israeli troops in the Tulkarem refugee camp.

The army said soldiers opened fire after the man drew a gun on an Israeli military patrol. Palestinian witnesses said the man was killed during a clash between soldiers and dozens of stone throwers, including many children on their way to school.

Israeli troops also arrested two suspected militants in a raid late Friday in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

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