DOTAN, West Bank, AP – Israeli forces evacuated a West Bank army base that was used as a staging area for removing residents of two Jewish settlements last month, and soldiers shot and killed an unarmed Palestinian teenager who entered the base too quickly.
Allah Khamtouni, 19, and nine other Palestinians entered the Dotan base near the Palestinian town of Jenin early Thursday, mistakenly thinking it had been abandoned, Palestinian officials said.
Israeli Col. Shmulik Kalmi said when Khamtouni and the others ran into the base, soldiers fired warning shots in the air, but the group did not halt. Fearing the Palestinians might be planning a suicide bombing, the soldiers fired at Khamtouni”s legs, but he bent down as they fired and was fatally hit in the shoulder, Kalmi said.
Both the Israeli army and the Palestinians said Khamtouni was unarmed.
Violence erupted later in the West Bank with the shooting deaths of two Palestinian militants. The Israeli military said its troops entered the village of Alar early Friday to arrest suspects and were fire upon by two Palestinians. The soldiers returned fire, killing them. Palestinians identified the dead as Islamic Jihad militants.
Meanwhile, in Washington, President Bush asked Jordan”s King Abdullah II to visit Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to help advance the Middle East peace process.
"It will be very helpful to have your voice of reason there to talk to both leaders," Bush said after meeting Thursday with Abdullah in the Oval Office. The president said Abdullah "graciously agreed" to meet with Sharon and Abbas.
The last troops left Dotan late Thursday afternoon and Palestinians flooded in, grabbing what construction materials they could, before Palestinian police opened fire on the scavengers, wounding three in the legs, witnesses said. About 60 uniformed police restored order.
The rundown base was retained as a staging post as part of Israel”s forced evacuation last month of the nearby Homesh and Sanur settlements. Settlers evacuated two other settlements voluntarily.
The pattern of Palestinians entering abandoned settlements on the heels of exiting Israeli soldiers was set last week, when Israel completed its pullout from all 21 Gaza settlements after leveling almost all the buildings in them. Activity was divided between scavenging for usable materials among the ruins and celebrating the end of Israel”s 38-year occupation.
This week Israeli forces left after finishing their work in Homesh and Sanur, and Palestinians moved in, though Israel is not handing over the area to the Palestinians and plans to continue to send army patrols through.
The evacuation of the Dotan base was not part of the "disengagement," which dealt with evacuating the 25 settlements. In a statement, the military said that with the evacuation of the base, Israeli forces have "completed their mission" in connection with the withdrawal.
In another development related to the pullout, Israel indicated it would speed up plans for reopening a vital Gaza crossing point.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told military officers he intends to reopen the Rafah border crossing in January, and beginning next week, Palestinians would be able to use the new Kerem Shalom facility at the junction of the Israeli, Egyptian and Gaza borders. Israel had said the Rafah crossing would be closed for six months for security and customs arrangements.
Israeli concerns escalated in the days after the pullout when thousands of people crossed the border unchecked, bringing large amounts of weapons and contraband into Gaza.
Palestinians insist on free access in and out of Gaza through Rafah with no Israeli presence and have rejected the Kerem Shalom option.
At Egypt”s Rafah border crossing into Gaza, scuffles broke out among some of the 1,500 Gazans who complained that food and water was running short after days of being prevented from returning home. Egyptian and Palestinian border guards sealed the crossing from both sides Monday.
Also Thursday, an Israeli court convicted Abbas Sayad, the commander of the Hamas military wing in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, of masterminding a March 2002 suicide bombing that killed 29 people at a Passover holiday meal at the Park Hotel in the Israeli resort city of Netanya.