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Israeli Soldiers, Palestinian Gunmen Fight Fierce Battles - 2003-06-27


The Israeli Army fought fierce battles with Palestinian gunmen on Friday killing three militants in a raid in the Gaza Strip. The violence comes a day after two Palestinians and one Israeli were killed in separate incidents.

Palestinians say the victims were killed when Israeli troops moved into an area near Gaza City to arrest a wanted member of the militant group Hamas. The clashes come with new reports that militant Palestinian groups are close to a cease-fire agreement to stop attacks on Israelis.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Thursday he expected an announcement within hours, but leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they are still the issue and that an announcement is more likely to come within a few days.

On Thursday, President Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, called for Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups to be outlawed. She spoke in London on her way here to discuss the so-called road map peace plan. Ms. Rice is to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas Saturday night and with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday.

This week President Bush publicly urged the Palestinian Authority to disarm Hamas rather than accept a temporary cease-fire. It's believed Ms. Rice will stress this point when she meets with Prime Minister Abbas.

Ms. Rice has urged America's European partners to declare Hamas' political wing a terrorist organization not just the military wing. She said, "the notion that on the one hand, Hamas is peaceful, and on the other hand, is trying to blow up the peace process is just illogical and, we're saying, will not work." Ms Rice said other radical groups like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad and what she termed "all of the other rejectionists" should also be targeted.