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Palestinians: Israeli Troops Fire on Pilgrims Returning From Mecca


Palestinian medical workers say Israeli troops opened fire near a Gaza border crossing Sunday, killing at least one person as a group of Muslim pilgrims returned from the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Israeli army officials said they were unaware of any shooting at the Erez border crossing, which links Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Separate reports from Gaza City quoting medical sources say Israeli forces wounded at least three other Palestinians. It is not clear whether the gunfire was aimed at the crowd of pilgrims returning home from Saudi Arabia, or at others awaiting their arrival on the Gaza side of the border crossing.

Meanwhile, Israel says it will not move ahead with the peace process until the Palestinian Authority does more to control militants. On Friday, Palestinian gunmen killed two Israeli hikers near Hebron, in the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority has condemned the Hebron killings and says several suspects have been arrested.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert discussed the issue during a Cabinet meeting on Sunday. In reply, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rdainah said the Palestinian Authority is taking steps to meet its obligations on such matters.

In other news, the Israeli military says it fired on a group of militants preparing to plant explosives near the Gaza border fence. Palestinian sources say a Hamas militant was killed.

And the European Union condemned an apparent attempt to smuggle banned chemicals into Gaza disguised as EU aid. This followed reports that the Israeli military seized more than six tons of potassium nitrate, a chemical banned in Gaza because it can be used to manufacture explosives and rockets.

Israel contends the chemical was intended for use by militants in Gaza. Military officials say the potassium nitrate, which also can be used as fertilizer, was hidden in bags marked as a aid shipment of sugar from the European Union.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.