Israelis, Palestinians Trade Blame

From Associated Press

Israelis and Palestinians angrily accused each other Sunday of violating a cease-fire after tank fire killed three Palestinian women--a shooting that Israel said may have been an army mistake.

Palestinian security chiefs met with CIA Director George J. Tenet in the West Bank city of Ramallah, but a three-way meeting with Israeli commanders was postponed, Israeli officials said.

The already tense atmosphere soured further after Israeli tank shells killed the women late Saturday. A thousand mourners at their Gaza Strip funeral escorted the flag-draped bodies and urged Palestinian militants to "avenge the martyrs' blood."

The Israeli chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, said that the soldiers were under fire from four directions and fired back but that the army may have returned fire on a wrong location. The three women died in a Bedouin camp near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim.

"It's very possible that there was a mistake," Mofaz said. "It is night, it is dark, you are fired upon, and it is possible to make a mistake. That is under investigation."

In meetings with Tenet, both sides had been expected to respond to a proposal presented Friday aimed at solidifying a cease-fire as a first step toward peace talks. However, Israeli officials said the three-way meeting was delayed so that the American officials could study the responses.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Larry Schwartz would say only, "We are continuing to work with both sides."

Palestinians, meanwhile, demanded Israeli and U.S. condemnation of the killings of Nessra Malaha, 65, Salimia Malaha, whose age could not be confirmed, and her niece, Hikmet Malaha, 17.

"This is the ugliest kind of state terrorism--to kill three women while sleeping in their house. It needs international condemnation from those who were quick to condemn the Tel Aviv bombing," Palestinian Cabinet Secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman said. He was referring to the June 1 suicide attack outside a Tel Aviv disco that killed 21 people, including the bomber.

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