JERUSALEM (AP) – In a nighttime raid in the West Bank, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian who served as a bodyguard for a Palestinian negotiator, the military and Palestinian officials said Friday.
Israel has been limiting its operations in the West Bank, ruled by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as it negotiates a peace agreement with Abbas’s moderate government. On Thursday, Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia announced that peace talks would continue after a spat over Israeli settlements.
But late Thursday, the Israeli military sent a team into a suburb of Ramallah, the seat of Abbas’ government, to arrest one of Qureia’s bodyguards, a member of the Palestinian security forces who the military said was implicated in armed activity against Israel and had provided weapons to other militants. He opened fire at troops and they fired back, killing him, the military said.
Palestinian security officials denied the 23-year-old bodyguard fired at troops. Qureia, a former Palestinian prime minister, had no immediate comment.
The raid went ahead despite Israel’s decision to largely stop pursuing members of Abbas’ Fatah movement, which Israel is seeking to strengthen against its rivals, the Islamic militants of Hamas.
The violence came as Israeli and Palestinian leaders decided to downplay a dispute over construction in east Jerusalem and begin negotiations on larger issues. That decision was announced after a two-hour meeting Thursday between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“Beginning next week, final status negotiations will be resumed,” Qureia said after the meeting, referring to talks on key issues like final borders, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem holy sites, which have stymied peace efforts for years.
Abbas and Olmert have set a 2008 target for a final peace agreement. But attempts to begin negotiations foundered over an Israeli plan to build more than 300 new homes for Jews in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. About 180,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem neighborhoods built over the past four decades.
The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as their future capital. Until Thursday, they insisted peace negotiations could not proceed until the latest project was canceled.
Israel, which captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it, has rejected the demand.
Olmert has issued a new directive to all government ministries requiring his approval for construction anywhere in east Jerusalem or the West Bank, an official in Olmert’s office said Friday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been officially announced.
The decision came after several lower-level bureaucratic decisions this month to move ahead with such construction caught Olmert off guard and angered the Palestinians and the U.S.
But Olmert has not called off plans to build the new homes in Har Homa, and has not ordered a halt to all construction in West Bank settlements, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Friday.
Israel will not confiscate land for new settlement construction and will not “outwardly expand” its West Bank settlements, Regev said, meaning that construction can continue inside the settlements’ existing borders. Israel has also canceled financial incentives designed to convince Israelis to live in the West Bank, Regev said.
“But in the Israeli perspective, the West Bank is not Jerusalem and Jerusalem is not the West Bank,” he said. As peace talks progress, Israel continues to battle militants in Gaza, controlled by the hardline Hamas. On Thursday, an Israeli aircraft killed a senior commander from Islamic Jihad, a militant group allied with Hamas, and Israeli troops killed five other Palestinian gunmen.