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Israel Troops Kill Palestinian Militants in Gaza Strip - 2004-08-17

Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinian militants near a settlement in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.

The Israeli Army said the men were shot after they were seen carrying what was believed to be an explosive device. The incident took place near a Jewish settlement in Gaza.

A militant Abu el-Reesh Brigades group affiliated with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction acknowledged that two of its members were killed. The group issued a statement saying the two men, from the Gaza town of Khan Younis, were shot while planting a bomb beside an army jeep.

On Monday, Israeli helicopter gunships killed two Palestinians in a strike near the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. The army said the men were preparing to launch rockets on Israel.

Under Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's controversial disengagement plan all Jewish settlements in Gaza will be dismantled along with four in the West Bank. The planned pullout has sparked instability in Gaza as various factions compete to fill the power vacuum that is expected to develop.

In a related development, the Israel Housing Authority on Tuesday published a list of 1,000 proposed new housing units to be built in four different West Bank settlements. The move angered the opposition Labor Party, which has been involved in negotiations that could lead to their joining Mr. Sharon's government. Labor demanded the tender offers for construction of the units be immediately withdrawn.

The anti-settler group Peace Now denounced the government move, saying that rather than disengagement, Mr. Sharon is carrying out a massive occupation of the West Bank.

The government has rejected such accusations, saying the plan to construct new housing in the West Bank is an old one, made before its May 2003 pledge to limit construction.