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Israeli Soldier Kills Palestinian Child (AP) By JILL LAWLESS JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 07/25/03 9:10 AM) Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A44729-2003Jul25.html
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JERUSALEM - An Israeli soldier in the West Bank shot and killed a 4- year-old Palestinian boy and wounded two other children Friday in the latest violent incident to break the relative calm of recent weeks.
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The army called the shooting an accident, but a Palestinian official said the soldier fired unprovoked at a vehicle waiting at a road block.
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In Washington, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was due to meet President Bush later Friday amid growing impatience among Palestinians over the slow pace of progress along the U.S.- backed "road map" peace plan.
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In a reflection of the tension, hundreds of Israeli police guarded entrances to Jerusalem´s Old City and stopped young men from entering the Al Aqsa Mosque, fearing unrest after Friday´s Muslim prayers. The area of the mosque, a site holy to Jews and Muslims, has been the site of clashes in the past.
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Israeli-Palestinian violence has fallen sharply since a June 29 truce declared by Palestinian militants, but the road map has stalled over which side should make the next move and sporadic violence has continued.
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In Friday´s shooting, a soldier fired a tank-mounted machine gun in the West Bank town of Barta. A 4-year-old boy, Mahmoud Kabaha, was killed and his two sisters injured.
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The military said the boy had died after "an accidental burst of gunfire ... following an operational error." The army expressed regret for the incident and said it had launched an investigation.
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The town´s mayor, Ghassan Kabaha - a distant relative of the dead boy - said the shooting appeared unprovoked and the jeep in which the boy had been traveling was riddled with bullets. "All the people here, even the other soldiers, were stunned," he said.
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In Jerusalem, Israeli police kept up a heavy presence around Friday prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque.
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Friday prayers have been a flashpoint for violence in the past, and police spokesman Gil Kleiman said police were limiting entry to women and men over 40 after intelligence that "extremists in the Arab community" intended to cause violence.
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Tensions around the site - known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Haram as-Sharif to Muslims - have risen since Israel began allowing small groups of Jewish tourists to visit three months ago.
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Non-Muslims had been barred since the latest round of violence began in September 2000 after Ariel Sharon - then opposition leader and now Israel´s prime minister - visited the site.
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The road map aims to end the almost three years of violence and create a Palestinian state by 2005.
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After the cease-fire, Israel withdrew from part of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Bethlehem, but Sharon is reluctant to make more moves required by the road map - such as freezing construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza - until Abbas cracks down on militant groups.
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Abbas, fearing a violent confrontation with the heavily armed militants, hopes to instead persuade them to disarm.
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Sharon´s office on Friday announced more steps aimed at easing restrictions on Palestinians, including removing three road blocks in the West Bank, opening a road linking Nablus and Jenin and transferring $16 million of frozen Palestinian assets to the Palestinian Authority.
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In a statement, the government said Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz would meet Palestinian counterpart Mohammed Dahlan next week to set a date for two West Bank cities to be transferred to Palestinian control.
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The two sides reman far apart on a key issue - the estimated 7,700 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel for alleged involvement in terrorism. Although the issue is not addressed in the road map, the Palestinians want the prisoners freed.
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Israel has agreed to free only a few hundred and has not said whether the list will include members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two of the militant groups. The militants say they will abandon their truce unless prisoners are freed.
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A senior official in Sharon´s office said a list of prisoners to be released would probably be published once he returns from his own trip to Washington. Sharon is scheduled to meet separately with Bush at the White House on Tuesday.
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Meanwhile, police searching for missing Israeli soldier Oleg Shaichat said he had most likely been kidnapped or killed by Palestinians. Security officials have said repeatedly they have intelligence warnings of militant intentions to kidnap Israeli soldiers.
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On Thursday, an Israeli Arab driver was shot and killed by Israeli police after refusing to stop at a roadblock near the West Bank. On Tuesday, police in northern Israel on the lookout for a Palestinian attack fatally shot an Israeli Arab driver who ignored an order to pull over.
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Also Thursday, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the office of a Palestinian security official in Gaza City, apparently by Palestinians. The grenade missed the office and struck a prison, injuring 10 inmates. (© 2003 The Associated Press 07/25/03)
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