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Palestinian Bomber Dies, Israeli Helicopters Attack in West Bank - 2001-08-08

A Palestinian man has blown himself up near an Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank, and Israeli combat helicopters have attacked Palestinian security targets following the killing of a Jewish settler.

The Palestinian man died after apparently detonating a bomb when an Israeli soldier approached his car at a checkpoint in the Jordan valley. The soldier was slightly injured by shrapnel from the explosion.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli helicopter gun ships pounded targets in the town of Salfit after Palestinian gunmen killed a Jewish settler near Nablus. Missiles were fired at two Palestinian security posts. One was being used by military intelligence and the other by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Force 17 unit. There were no reports of casualties.

Later, Palestinian officials said more missiles were fired at a Palestinian security post in Nablus.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited Turkey Wednesday, seeking support for his policies regarding the Palestinian uprising. Mr. Arafat has also been traveling in the region this week, renewing his call for international monitors to be sent to the area.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat blames the United States for not being more involved in efforts to end the conflict. "Unfortunately, the hesitancy of the United States administration is understood by Sharon as a green light to continue the aggression, to continue the attacks," Mr. Erekat said.

Israel strongly opposes any effort to bring observers from different countries into the Palestinian territories. Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer says Israel is willing to allow an increase in the number of agents from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency that are trying to establish security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians. "Regarding the issue of observers, Israel is prepared for an increase in the number of CIA personnel already operating in the field, in order to promote security coordination between both parties," Mr. Ben-Eliezer said. "Nevertheless, the central issue is not assigning international observers, but rather the Palestinian Authority's deciding on a ceasefire and stopping the bloodshed, as a basis for both parties to return to the negotiation track."

In another development, the Israeli government says the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip continues to grow. Government statistics say about 208,000 settlers now live in the territories, but the rate of growth has slowed significantly.

With settlers regularly targeted for attack by Palestinian militants, some Jewish families have moved out. The Israeli government says, however, they are outnumbered by people moving in and births among existing families.

The future of Jewish settlements in the predominantly Palestinian territories was one of the most difficult issues in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed during the current wave of violence.