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Gaza Violence Continues - 2003-02-04

Efforts to build a new coalition government in Israel are continuing, but so far there is no firm indication of what form that government might take. Meanwhile, there are new reports of shootings and home demolitions in the Palestinian territories.

It was another night of violence in Gaza, where Palestinian gunmen wounded a Jewish settler and local witnesses say Israeli troops destroyed about eight Palestinian homes. The army also blew up the home of a Palestinian militant near the West Bank town of Nablus.

Late Monday Israeli tank fire in the Gaza Strip killed two Palestinian farmers and injured four other civilians.

More than 2,000 Palestinians and over 700 Israelis have been killed since the Palestinian uprising began 28 months ago. Despite some lulls, violence has continued on an almost daily basis, and the Israeli army has destroyed hundreds of Palestinian homes as well as farmland and olive groves, in what the military says is an effort to deter attacks against Israelis.

Among the most prominent flashpoints for violence are the Jewish settlements located in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Tuesday's shooting incident occurred at the Kfar Darom settlement in Gaza.

The settlements are built on land the Palestinians claim for their future state. For the settlers this is land that historically belonged to the Jews, and they say they have a right to it.

The whole issue of settlements has been hotly debated in Israel and is a major stumbling block to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It was also an issue during the political campaign before last week's elections and remains a topic even now as Ariel Sharon tries to put together a new coalition government.

Mr. Sharon has been a strong proponent of settlements, while his Labor party rival Amram Mitzna advocates dismantling them as part of a peace deal.

The two political rivals met Monday as Mr. Sharon tried unsuccessfully to persuade Mr. Mitzna to join his government. Israeli media quote Mr. Mitzna as saying he was shocked by the Prime Minister's continuing refusal to consider dismantling settlements. He said Mr. Sharon instead lectured him on the historical and strategic importance of the settlements.

The Settlers' Council announced Monday that the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip grew by almost six percent in 2002.