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Israeli Troops Kill Palestinian Gunman in West Bank - 2003-07-01

Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian gunman who fired on them at a checkpoint near the West Bank city Tulkarem on Tuesday. The shooting comes as the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers prepare to meet for talks on pursuing the road map peace plan.

The shooting is the second since the three main Palestinian militant groups announced a ceasefire on Sunday.

A Bulgarian construction worker was shot and killed by gunmen near the town of Jenin in the northern part of the West Bank. Israel Radio quotes security sources as saying that despite the two shooting incidents there has been a dramatic drop off in the terror activities they monitor.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, are to meet later Tuesday to discuss the next steps in implementing the peace plan -- known as the road map.

On Monday Palestinian police took control of parts of the Gaza Strip, following a partial Israeli troop withdrawal. They moved into Beit Hanoun and established positions along the main north-south highway.

The Israeli withdrawal allowed Palestinians to move freely through parts of the Gaza Strip for the first time in nearly three years.

Israel is expected to hand over control of the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in the Arab-Israeli town of Nazareth Israeli bulldozers began demolishing the foundations of a mosque which was being built next to the town's Church of the Annunciation.

Some 500 police were deployed around the site. Israeli courts say the mosque is being built without authorization. A number of demonstrators were arrested, including the city's deputy mayor.

Approval was given to build the mosque six years ago, but the decision was reversed following protests by church officials who complain the mosque would be too near their property.

Muslim leaders angrily condemned the move to demolish the mosque and said it was another part of what they termed the Bush-Sharon War on Islam. The tension follows reports that Israeli police have started letting non-Muslims into the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's old city without the approval of the Muslim religious trust. Jerusalem police acknowledge that about 20 small groups of Christians and Jews have been allowed in in the past few days.

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

Two weeks ago Interior Minister Tzachi Hanegbi recommended to Prime Minister Sharon that the Mount be opened to non-Muslim visitors. Mr. Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in the fall of 2000 is considered by many the catalyst that led to the outbreak of the intifada and the ensuing 33 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The site was subsequently closed to non-Muslims.