JENIN, West Bank,(Reuters) – Israeli soldiers killed three Palestinians in raids against militants in the occupied West Bank on Friday, local residents said.
Two men were shot dead in al-Fara refugee camp, near the city of Jenin. Residents said the men were civilians and one had been throwing rocks at troops.
In the village of Yamoun, west of Jenin, soldiers killed a man who had climbed on to the roof of his home to watch the Israeli troops, residents said.
An Israeli army spokesman said troops in al-Fara shot two Palestinians, one of whom was carrying a gun while the other had an axe. They were in a group of people moving towards the troops in a threatening manner, said the spokesman. He said the gunman was killed and the other man was wounded in the leg and taken to an Israeli hospital for treatment.
In Yamoun, soldiers fired at several gunmen and hit at least two of them, the spokesman said.
The Israeli army carries out frequent raids against militants in the West Bank. The Jenin area is a militant stronghold.
In the northern Gaza Strip, local residents said unidentified gunmen kidnapped a man and wounded his wife, an Israeli Arab, in a shooting incident. The motive for the incident was unclear.
Residents identified the man as Reyadh al-Louh, a Palestinian who holds an Israeli identity card. Hospital staff in Gaza City said Louh’s wife was in a serious condition.
Local residents say the couple were visiting family in the coastal territory during the Eid ul-Fitr holiday.
On Thursday EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called for a restart of the dormant Middle East peace process after meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli leaders.
“The Palestinian people have suffered and suffered a lot, and it is time that the occupation that started in 1967 is over,” he said after talks with the embattled Abbas on the continuing first leg of a Middle East tour, part of a new drive to try and provide impetus to the moribund peace process.
“That is the objective of the roadmap,” he said, referring to an internationally drafted plan which seeks to create a Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure Israel, but has been largely dormant since its inception in 2003.
After earlier meetings with Israeli leaders, Solana expressed pessisim about the lack of progress.
“We have the feeling that it is now stalled,” Solana said after a working breakfast with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Tel Aviv, stressing that the European Union was ready to offer its help to revive peace efforts.
Europe would like to see “some movement… to give not only hope to the people, but (to) realities on the ground,” he said.
“We the Europeans are more committed than ever” to the stalled peace drive, he added.
Solana’s six-day Middle East trip, which will also take in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, is part of an EU drive to use its newfound influence beyond just being a substantial provider of humanitarian aid. But it takes place at a difficult political time in Israel and in the Palestinian territories.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is struggling to build a stable coalition and his government outright refuses to deal with the Hamas-led Palestinian cabinet, run by what the Jewish state considers to be a terrorist organisation.
Abbas, widely accepted by the West as the main Palestinian interlocutor since Hamas came to power in March after January elections, has so far failed to persuade the Islamist-led administration to sanction an internationally acceptable cabinet.
With the European Union backing Abbas, Hamas has steadfastly refused pressure to organise a government that honours international conditions to recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by past peace agreements.
In Israel, Solana noted in particular the dire situation in the Gaza Strip and the closure of the Rafah border crossing to Egypt.
The crossing, the Palestinians’ only gateway from Gaza to the outside world that bypasses Israel, has opened only occasionally since an Israeli soldier was seized by Gaza-based militants at the end of June.
While thanking the EU for its contributions, particularly in monitoring the crossing, Livni suggested that Israel may seek changes in the way the crossing is operated when its mandate comes up for renewal next month.
“We are going to negotiate with the Europeans about the future terms,” she told reporters.
The EU, Russia, United Nations and United States drafted the roadmap, which seeks to create a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel, which must in turn end illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.
The EU has donated some 600 million euros (760 million dollars) to the Palestinians this year, more than in an average year, although the money has been sent in ways that keep it out of the hands of Hamas.
But boots on the ground in the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon and on the Rafah border crossing, not to mention a nascent Palestinian police support mission, have given the EU new diplomatic leverage.