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Suicide Bomber Kills Jewish Settler in Hebron - 2003-05-17

A suspected Palestinian suicide bomber has killed two Jewish settlers in the West Bank, hours before top level Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Israeli military officials say the bomber blew himself up next to homes belonging to Jewish settlers in the divided West Bank city of Hebron.

The officials say the attacker came to the area disguised as a religious Jew, and panicked after being challenged by soldiers on patrol.

The bomber then ran towards two Jewish settlers and set off a deadly explosion.

The blast came just as talks were about to get under way between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his new Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas.

On the eve of the talks, Mr. Abbas formally accepted the resignation of top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat.

Mr. Erekat, who had been the minister responsible for peace talks with Israel, resigned in protest after being left out of the Palestinian delegation for Saturday's meeting.

Mr. Sharon was expected to offer the Palestinians a temporary cease-fire to end nearly three years of clashes.

Under the plan, Israel would begin a phased withdrawal of troops from Palestinian self-rule areas, starting in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent days, as Israeli troops seized the northern town of Beit Hanoun.

Israeli army officials say the operation is aimed at stopping more Palestinian rocket attacks from the area.

On Saturday, Israeli soldiers shot dead one Palestinian gunman in Beit Hanoun. His death brought to six the number of Palestinians killed in the town since the start of the Israeli operation on Thursday.