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Israeli Army Kills 4 Palestinian Policemen : Mideast: Jewish state blames shootout on Arab security personnel at checkpoint. Gaza Strip authorities say officers were fired on for no reason.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Israeli soldiers shot and killed four Palestinian police officers in the Gaza Strip on Monday night in the worst shooting incident there since Israel handed control of daily life to the Palestine Liberation Organization in May.

Israel blamed the Palestinian police for the shootout, but the Palestinian Authority said its officers were fired on for no reason. The incident is likely to worsen relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that are already strained by disputes over Israeli settlements in the West Bank and by Israel’s reluctance to redeploy its troops out of West Bank towns and villages.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath are scheduled to meet today in Cairo to discuss redeployment and Palestinian elections in the territories. The shooting incident is bound to dominate the meeting, however.

Asked about the incident as he flew to Cairo this morning, Peres said it will “be in the air” during his talks with Shaath. “I think that there was a misunderstanding with the Palestinian policemen,” Peres told reporters. “To my deep regret, these things happen.”

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A joint Israeli-Palestinian committee was hastily formed Monday night to investigate the shooting.

“The Palestinians did not fire any shots at the Israelis,” said Palestinian police Gen. Abdul Razek Majayda, one of those involved in the investigation. He said the Palestinian police were eating dinner inside their one-story, unfinished building when the shooting started.

The army said that one of its jeep patrols was operating in Israeli-held land just south of Erez, the border checkpoint between the Gaza Strip and Israel, about 10:30 p.m. when it suddenly came under fire. According to the army, the shooting came from a Palestinian police outpost on land controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The area was blanketed by a thick fog at the time.

The Israeli soldiers reportedly returned fire, and a 20-minute shootout ensued. Reinforced with additional troops, Israeli soldiers charged the police outpost after reportedly ordering those inside to surrender.

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“Shots were fired from the Palestinian position next to the Erez checkpoint toward an (army) patrol in the area. The patrol shot back immediately, and afterward exchanges of fire developed,” said the commander of the area, identified by Israel Radio only as Col. Nabi.

Nabi said that one Palestinian police officer surrendered but that another rolled out of the concrete outpost, shooting and shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great).

“Immediately, we killed him on the spot,” Nabi said. During the charge, soldiers reportedly threw at least one grenade into the outpost, which lies near a large parking lot just west of the Palestinian village of Beit Hanoun. Nabi said the initial investigation showed that his men had acted according to orders.

“It is difficult to explain this incident,” Nabi said. “But on the face of it, it is clear that the fire was opened from the position of the Palestinian police.”

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The last significant exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian police was at Erez in July, when Palestinian laborers frustrated by delays at the border crossing rioted. In that incident, two Palestinians were killed and 90 wounded, including 25 police officers. An Israeli army post was overrun and an Israeli bus depot was burned.

The army said today that there have been five incidents of its troops being shot at in Gaza in the last two days. Hamas, the Islamic opposition group, and other Palestinian opposition groups have vowed to continue attacking Israeli soldiers who patrol near Jewish settlements in the strip.

One of the few success stories of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord so far has been cooperation between the Israeli army and the Palestinian security forces. The Israelis carry out joint patrols on some roads with the Palestinian police and have carried out some joint searches after attacks on patrols.


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