Israeli troops shot dead four Palestinians in West Bank violence Friday. One of the dead was a senior member of a group linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah Movement.
Three of the victims were identified as members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. One of them, Abed Rahman Nazal, was the group's number two man in Qalqilya, the town where the shooting occurred. The Al Aqsa leader in the town, Atef Sha'aban, was hospitalized in serious condition.
The Israeli army said soldiers opened fire when the men refused orders to stop, and tried to flee.
Palestinian witnesses say the men were ambushed by Israeli commandos who approached them in an unmarked car and opened fire at close range.
A fourth man was shot dead in a separate incident near the West Bank village of Talouza, when Israeli troops tried to arrest four wanted militants. The army said two of the men began shooting and the troops returned fire. Palestinian witnesses said the man killed was a bystander. Israeli forces killed three other Al Aqsa members on Thursday during a raid on Tulkarem.
In other incidents, two Palestinian girls, four and nine years old, were killed overnight west of the town of Beit Hanoun at the end of the third day of raids in the Gaza Strip. And in the Gaza town of Beit Lahia, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was also shot and killed.
The Israeli military said its troops did not fire at homes or at children. The Army blamed Palestinian gunmen for endangering the civilian population by operating close to crowds of youngsters, throwing hand grenades and firing automatic weapons and an anti-tank missile at the soldiers, who shot back.
Israel says the operations were aimed at stopping militants from firing rockets at Israeli towns and Jewish settlements.
Meanwhile, Israel's deputy prime minister warned of dire consequences for his Likud Party, if it does not approve Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. Ehud Olmert also complained that those who have given their support to the plan have not done enough to promote it. Recent polls show an erosion of public support for the Sharon plan.
One of the Likud cabinet members who opposes the plan is Uzi Landau. He says, ?It's quite obvious that this disengagement plan is going to tremendously harm Israel's security, Israel's ability to combat terror. And, it is done in face of the very simple fact that there are no real major commitments by the United States to the State of Israel.?
The opposition Labor Party has expressed grudging acceptance of the plan but party leader Shimon Peres says he prefers not to actively support it because of what he says are its shortcomings.
?We shall recommend that the present government will implement the plan without us because we are not satisfied with the plan. We prefer the plan (because of) the present situation but as far as peace is concerned it's a far cry from what is needed,? Mr. Peres said.
A poll published Friday by the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot shows that only 49 percent of party members would approve of the plan when Likud Party members vote on it May 2nd. Prime Minister Sharon has said he is submitting his plan to the party for approval because it is the ethical thing to do. But he also points out the results are not legally binding on him.