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4 Die in Scattered Mideast Violence

June 11, 2002

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ A bomb exploded at the gates of a West Bank orchard Tuesday as a group of Israeli teenagers were leaving the field after helping with the cherry harvest. Three 15-year-old boys were injured, one seriously.

Also, Palestinian militants killed two fellow Palestinians suspected of working with Israel, a third Palestinian blew himself up by accident and a fourth was shot dead Tuesday in a confrontation with Israeli troops.

The Israeli army staged a pair of raids into the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Tulkarem, and maintained a siege at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s battered compound in Ramallah for a second day.

The latest violence coincided with a Washington visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who received strong backing Monday in a meeting with President Bush. Sharon planned talks with U.S. congressional leaders, who have also been supportive of Israel in the Mideast fighting.

In Tuesday’s bloodshed, Palestinian police in the West Bank town of Hebron said they found the bodies of two Palestinians suspected of providing Israel with information that helped the army kill a local militia leader.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia group affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction, claimed responsibility.

Police said they found spent cartridges close to the bodies, one of which was discovered in the exact spot where Marwan Zalloum _ the local leader of the militia _ was gunned down by an Israeli helicopter on April 22.

In its leaflet, the militia claimed the two men had helped Israel track down Zalloum. Dozens of suspected collaborators have been killed since the Palestinian uprising began 20 months ago.

In a farm area outside Hebron, a bomb went off as about 40 Israeli teen-agers, all of them aged 15 or older, finished helping with a cherry harvest, and were walking through a gate to board a bus. The blast was south of Hebron, near the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, according to the Settlers’ Council.

Three 15-year-old boys were taken to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem to be treated for leg, arm and chest wounds, the hospital said. One was seriously injured.

No one claimed responsibility, but Palestinian militants have carried out dozens of bomb attacks against Israelis in the current fighting.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers saw an explosion along the fence dividing the coastal territory from Israel. After a search, they found the body of a Palestinian who was apparently planting a bomb that exploded prematurely, the army said.

Also in Gaza, a Palestinian who opened fire at an Israeli civilian car, was shot dead by soldiers escorting the vehicle, the Israeli army said. The soldiers and the people in the car were not hurt.

In Tulkarem, about 10 Israeli tanks and 15 jeeps entered the West Bank city and several nearby Palestinian villages, conducting searches and preventing residents from leaving their homes. The army said soldiers were looking for militants, though no arrests were reported. The Israeli army also carried out a brief incursion overnight into the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem.

Israeli troops entered Ramallah in force early Monday, encircling Arafat’s compound and clamping a curfew on the Palestinian commercial hub.

The army said it has detained more than 30 suspects in Ramallah, including a suicide bomber who was preparing to attack.

Yusef Tarifi, a lawyer and the son of Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Jamil Tarifi, was among those arrested. The army confirmed the arrest but did not say why Tarifi was taken into custody.

The army said it was encircling Arafat’s compound to prevent militants from seeking refuge there. It did not attack the headquarters itself as it did last Thursday, when soldiers blew up three buildings in retaliation for the suicide bombing a day earlier.

Arafat remained inside the compound Tuesday and was unharmed, Palestinian officials said.

Outside his headquarters, the army blocked roads with earthen barricades and piles of rubble. Streets remained deserted and the army prevented journalists from entering the city, which it declared a closed military zone.

The Israeli army has been conducting almost daily in-and-out raids of Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank.

The incursions _ which follow a wide-scale military operation in the West Bank that ended in May _ are often brief, sometimes lasting just a few hours. The army says the raids are meant to thwart suicide bombings and other attacks.

In another development, Majed al-Masri, a West Bank leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, said the militia had decided to halt attacks in Israel for now. But the militia would continue to attack Jewish settlements and military posts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he said.

He also said that if the army kills any Palestinian militia leaders, the group would resume its attacks inside Israel.

In Washington, Bush supported Israel’s ``right to defend herself″ after his Monday meeting with Sharon. The Israeli leader reiterated his position that violence must end before peace negotiations can begin. He also stressed again his belief that there can be no successful talks so long as Arafat remains in power.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said Bush’s position ``reflects total bias toward the policy of occupation ... and destruction that Sharon is implementing.″

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