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Carter Offers to Mediate in Mideast

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Carter offers to mediate in Mideast

8 deaths in 24 hours underscore instability, pent-up anger

MSNBC NEWS SERVICES

Dec. 12 — As the deaths of six Palestinians and two Israelis in three shooting incidents over the past 24 hours underscored the unrelenting instability and tension in the Middle East, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said Thursday he was willing to mediate peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, but only if they and the U.S. government asked him to.

CARTER, SPEAKING in Uppsala, Sweden, two days after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, said escalating tension between Israelis and Palestinians had not been stemmed and criticized the stance President Bush has taken in the conflict.

“Until President Bush, every president, Democratic or Republican, has in my opinion played a balancing role as a trusted mediator,” he said. “Now though it seems obvious that the present administration in Washington is completely compatible with the Israeli government, and they have completely ignored ... the Palestinian Authority.”

The former Democratic president received the prize in Oslo, Norway, on Tuesday. As is tradition for Peace Prize winners, Carter traveled to Stockholm to address the Swedish parliament.

CONTINUING VIOLENCE

In the Gaza Strip, five Palestinians were killed Wednesday by an Israeli tank shell while trying to scale a barbed-wire fence while in the West Bank city of Hebron, two Israelis were shot dead by Pthe deaths of six Palestinians and two Israelis in three shooting incidents over the past 24 hours underscored the unrelenting instability and tension in the Middle East, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said Thursday he was willing to mediate peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, but only if they and the U.S. government asked him to.

CARTER, SPEAKING in Uppsala, Sweden, two days after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, said escalating tension between Israelis and Palestinians had not been stemmed and criticized the stance President Bush has taken in the conflict.

“Until President Bush, every president, Democratic or Republican, has in my opinion played a balancing role as a trusted mediator,” he said. “Now though it seems obvious that the present administration in Washington is completely compatible with the Israeli government, and they have completely ignored ... the Palestinian Authority.”

The former Democratic president received the prize in Oslo, Norway, on Tuesday. As is tradition for Peace Prize winners, Carter traveled to Stockholm to address the Swedish parliament.

CONTINUING VIOLENCE

In the Gaza Strip, five Palestinians were killed Wednesday by an Israeli tank shell while trying to scale a barbed-wire fence while in the West Bank city of Hebron, two Israelis were shot dead by Palestinians, officials said Thursday.

In the third incident, Israeli soldiers killed an armed Palestinian trying to attack a Jewish settlement, also in the Gaza Strip.

A radical PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claimed responsibility for the failed infiltration. Also Thursday, an Israeli court ruled that it has the right to try Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the Palestinian uprising and the highest-ranking Palestinian official in Israeli custody.

The military said soldiers saw five suspicious figures near the border fence, in an area where Palestinians are barred from entering. Soldiers fired at the five, and their bodies were found Thursday morning, the army said. Ladders were found near the bodies, but no weapons.

The identities of the dead were not immediately known.

The impoverished Gaza Strip is surrounded by a tall barbed-wire fence to keep militants out of Israel. Palestinian laborers trying to sneak into Israel to find work sometimes try to cut through or climb over the fence.

Unemployment is above 50 percent in Gaza, and menial jobs in Israel were a mainstay of Gaza’s economy before Israeli security closures forced Palestinian laborers to stay home.

Hours later in Hebron, police sources said two Israelis were killed in a Palestinian attack. Israel TV said the alestinians, officials said Thursday.

In the third incident, Israeli soldiers killed an armed Palestinian trying to attack a Jewish settlement, also in the Gaza Strip.

A radical PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claimed responsibility for the failed infiltration. Also Thursday, an Israeli court ruled that it has the right to try Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the Palestinian uprising and the highest-ranking Palestinian official in Israeli custody.

The military said soldiers saw five suspicious figures near the border fence, in an area where Palestinians are barred from entering. Soldiers fired at the five, and their bodies were found Thursday morning, the army said. Ladders were found near the bodies, but no weapons.

The identities of the dead were not immediately known.

The impoverished Gaza Strip is surrounded by a tall barbed-wire fence to keep militants out of Israel. Palestinian laborers trying to sneak into Israel to find work sometimes try to cut through or climb over the fence.

Unemployment is above 50 percent in Gaza, and menial jobs in Israel were a mainstay of Gaza’s economy before Israeli security closures forced Palestinian laborers to stay home.

Hours later in Hebron, police sources said two Israelis were killed in a Palestinian attack. Israel TV said the Israelis were hit by gunfire.

Last month, 12 Israeli soldiers and security guards were killed in an ambush after settlers returned from prayers at a holy site in Hebron to a nearby Jewish settlement.

Israeli rescue services said Thursday they were treating two casualties near the same area.

Hebron is a frequent flashpoint of violence. Under an interim peace accord, the city is divided into Israeli and Palestinian zones, because about 450 Jewish settlers live in three enclaves in the center of the city, surrounded by more than 100,000 Palestinians.

GAZA INFILTRATION

In the attempted infiltration, two Palestinians approached the Gush Katif settlement block before dawn, armed with automatic rifles, said an Israeli army commander, Lt. Col. Avi Oved.

One of the attackers was cutting the perimeter fence, Oved said. “The forces fired on him and killed him.... The other one was apparently behind and managed to flee,” he said. “Their goal was definitely to get into one of the settlements.”

Palestinian militants have often targeted Jewish settlements and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 26 months of fighting. Palestinians consider the settlements an obstacle to their goal of establishing a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israelis were hit by gunfire.

Last month, 12 Israeli soldiers and security guards were killed in an ambush after settlers returned from prayers at a holy site in Hebron to a nearby Jewish settlement.

Israeli rescue services said Thursday they were treating two casualties near the same area.

Hebron is a frequent flashpoint of violence. Under an interim peace accord, the city is divided into Israeli and Palestinian zones, because about 450 Jewish settlers live in three enclaves in the center of the city, surrounded by more than 100,000 Palestinians.

GAZA INFILTRATION

In the attempted infiltration, two Palestinians approached the Gush Katif settlement block before dawn, armed with automatic rifles, said an Israeli army commander, Lt. Col. Avi Oved.

One of the attackers was cutting the perimeter fence, Oved said. “The forces fired on him and killed him.... The other one was apparently behind and managed to flee,” he said. “Their goal was definitely to get into one of the settlements.”

Palestinian militants have often targeted Jewish settlements and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 26 months of fighting. Palestinians consider the settlements an obstacle to their goal of establishing a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

KEY COURT RULING

In Tel Aviv, the District Court ruled that it has jurisdiction in the case against Barghouti, leader of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement in the West Bank. The defense argued that Barghouti has immunity as a Palestinian legislator and that Israeli forces snatched him illegally from a West Bank home eight months ago.

Barghouti has said he should be treated as a prisoner of war, not a criminal suspect. Israel says Barghouti helped finance the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a militia linked to Fatah. It has accused him of involvement in attacks that killed 26 Israelis.

Meanwhile, the latest opinion polls showed the hard-line Likud party, led by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, holding a wide lead over the opposition Labor Party before a Jan. 28 general election.

According to the Dialogue research company poll published in the Haaretz newspaper Thursday, Likud will get 41 seats in the 120-member parliament, more than double the 19 seats it currently holds.

The poll forecast that Labor would win 21 seats in the parliament, a drop from its current 26 spots. The poll questioned 597 eligible Israeli voters, and its margin of error was 4 percentage points.

Labor is led by Amram Mitzna, a dovish former general who has said that if elected prime minister, he would immed

KEY COURT RULING

In Tel Aviv, the District Court ruled that it has jurisdiction in the case against Barghouti, leader of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement in the West Bank. The defense argued that Barghouti has immunity as a Palestinian legislator and that Israeli forces snatched him illegally from a West Bank home eight months ago.

Barghouti has said he should be treated as a prisoner of war, not a criminal suspect. Israel says Barghouti helped finance the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a militia linked to Fatah. It has accused him of involvement in attacks that killed 26 Israelis.

Meanwhile, the latest opinion polls showed the hard-line Likud party, led by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, holding a wide lead over the opposition Labor Party before a Jan. 28 general election.

According to the Dialogue research company poll published in the Haaretz newspaper Thursday, Likud will get 41 seats in the 120-member parliament, more than double the 19 seats it currently holds.

The poll forecast that Labor would win 21 seats in the parliament, a drop from its current 26 spots. The poll questioned 597 eligible Israeli voters, and its margin of error was 4 percentage points.

Labor is led by Amram Mitzna, a dovish former general who has said that if elected prime minister, he would immediately dismantle Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and restart long-stalled peace talks.

Sharon refuses to negotiate with the Palestinians until there is a total cessation of violence. He dismisses any chance of talking to Arafat.

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