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Israeli Dies in Roadside Attack

May 1, 2001

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ An Israeli driver was killed and another hurt in West Bank shooting ambushes Tuesday, a day after two mysterious explosions killed five Palestinians, including a militant wanted by Israel and two children.

The Palestinians blamed Israel for the blast that killed the youngsters, ages 3 and 7. Israel’s army denied the allegations.

The renewed violence came as Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres started talks in the United States about a truce plan.

The slain Israeli motorist was identified as Assaf Hershkovitz, 31, a resident of the Jewish settlement of Ofra whose father Arieh was killed in another West Bank drive-by shooting in January.

Hershkovitz’ van overturned after shots were fired at the vehicle on a road near the Beit El settlement on the outskirts of the West Bank town of Ramallah, the army said. The army sealed off the area to search for the gunman.

In another roadside ambush, an Israeli was lightly injured near the West Bank town of Nablus, the army said. A Palestinian suspect was arrested.

Palestinian police, meanwhile, were investigating two powerful explosions Monday in Ramallah and Gaza City.

In the Ramallah blast, a two-story apartment building was leveled near Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s headquarters. Doctors said at least three people were killed _ 3-year-old Malak Barakat, her 7-year-old brother Shahid and Hassan al Qady, a leading member in Arafat’s Fatah movement.

Al Qady was suspected by Israel of involvement in the killing a 16-year-old Israeli earlier this year. The teen-ager, Ofir Nahum, was lured to Ramallah by a Palestinian woman in an exchange of e-mail messages, dragged out of the car and killed by gunmen.

Palestinian intelligence chief Amin al Hindi said he believed Israel was behind Monday’s explosion. Al Hindi said Palestinian civilians should stay away from militants wanted by Israel in the near future to avoid being targeted themselves.

A Fatah leader in the West Bank, Hussein al Sheikh, said the explosion was part of ``the continuous Israeli policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders.″

The Israeli army said it had nothing to do with the blast.

Al Hindi said powerful explosives were planted under the stairway of the building. Al Qady’s body was ripped apart by the force of the blast. The mother of the two dead children and a younger sister were injured.

A man who shared the ground floor apartment with Al Qady was missing, security officials said.

In Gaza City, a bomb inside a van exploded Monday afternoon, killing two Palestinians and badly damaging a building. Palestinians said the two dead men were activists of the Islamic militant Hamas group.

Palestinian police chief Ghazi Jabali said the cause of the blast was still under investigation. Israel radio reported that they were preparing a bomb that went off accidentally.

Also Monday, a Palestinian worker was killed and another wounded when a car exploded in a Jewish settlement in Gaza, and Palestinians fired seven mortar shells at two Gaza settlements. The Israeli military responded with tank fire toward the Palestinian city of Khan Yunis, wounding five people, according to Palestinian officials.

Since the fighting began last September, 428 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 72 on the Israeli side.

Peres arrived in New York to begin talks about an Egyptian-Jordanian plan to arrange a truce after seven months of Palestinian-Israeli clashes. Peres told Israel television that there is an understanding with the Palestinians about a cease-fire, but ``there is not yet agreement.″

Israel removed roadblocks around Bethlehem and Qalqilya in the West Bank and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer ordered gradual easing of restrictions around other Palestinian towns, starting Tuesday.

The Egyptian-Jordanian proposal calls for a monthlong cease-fire. Israel wants a trial period of two or three months before restarting negotiations.

``We will consider the situation only according to the results on the ground, and not according to statements and promises,″ Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Javier Solana, the European Union security affairs chief.