JERUSALEM – A flurry of new international peace efforts failed to slow Mideast violence Saturday as a group of Palestinian gunmen opened fire inside the lobby of a seaside Israeli hotel and Israeli troops elsewhere shot and killed two people including a 15-year-old girl.
Three Palestinian attackers wounded at least 35 Israelis before the gunmen were shot dead by police in the coastal town of Netanya, Israeli authorities said. The shooting took place shortly after the Jewish Sabbath ended at sundown Saturday, a time when the seafront area is crowded with pedestrians.
The Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility in a phone call to The Associated Press.
Israel's army, meanwhile, staged air strikes, bulldozed homes and detained Palestinian men for a second straight day as they searched for militants in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Two Palestinians, a 15-year-old girl and a policemen, were killed by Israeli fire near the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Palestinians said.
The United States, European countries and Arab leaders are all working on plans to calm the region following the deadliest week since the fighting began in September 2000. More than 100 Palestinians and 30 Israelis were killed in the seven-day period ending Friday, which was bloodiest single day yet — 39 Palestinians and one Israeli died.
Arafat, who has been urgently seeking international intervention, said he welcomed the U.S. decision to send Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni, who is expected this week. "We have to thank President Bush," Arafat said at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.
In Cairo, Arab foreign ministers called on the United States and the United Nations to intervene, and took up a Saudi peace plan that has the backing of many Arab states, though Israel has expressed strong reservations.
In Israeli military actions, troops on loudspeakers ordered all men, ages 16 to 40, to report to a girls school for questioning in the Tulkarem refugee camp in the West Bank.
The men held their hands over their heads as they walked through the dusty streets while Israeli soldiers pointed rifles at them. About 250 Palestinian men were detained, Palestinians said.
Israel detained about 500 Palestinian men at the school on Friday, and later took them to an army base for interrogation. About 50 were wanted by Israel, the army said.
The army also said it seized 10 Qassam rockets in Tulkarem. The town is just inside the West Bank border, and the rockets have the range to hit nearby Israeli towns.
In refugee camps in Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, the 15-year-old Palestinian girl and the policemen both died of gunshot wounds blamed on the Israeli forces in the area, according to Palestinian officials hospital doctors.
Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers took up positions outside the Dheisheh refugee camp, and an earth mover dug a trench in the road to cut off the camp from roads leading in and out. In the past two weeks, such actions have preceded raids on refugee camps, which are strongholds for militants.
Also, Israeli warplanes and helicopters fired missiles at two Palestinian security buildings in Gaza City and at two Palestinian government complexes in Nablus in the West Bank. Seven people were injured in one of the Gaza strikes, hospital officials said.
Israeli tanks and bulldozers moved into a neighborhood near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, flattening seven homes, witnesses said. The Israeli army said Palestinians have repeatedly used the buildings to fire on Israeli troops.
Israel says the offensive is aimed at rooting out militants and seizing their weapons following a recent wave of bombings and shootings against Israelis. But Palestinians say the Israelis have frequently fired indiscriminately, killing civilians and destroying homes and building that were not linked to the fighting.
Facing pressure from the usually friendly U.S. administration, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Friday he would ease his long-standing demand for a week of absolute calm before moving forward with a U.S. truce plan.
"We waived away the seven days. There's no excuse now for the Palestinians not to enter serious talks to establish a cease-fire," said Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin.
Sharon announced the shift on Israeli television Friday after a telephone conversation with Secretary of State Colin Powell and blunt comments from the State Department, which warned Israel against going into densely populated areas with heavy military force.
Sharon did not say exactly what he was seeking now, but his remarks were met with deep skepticism from the Palestinian side.
"Words are not enough. Sharon and his government have to stop their continuous massacres against Palestinian civilians, cities villages and refugee camps," said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Arafat. "There is no military solution."
The U.S. diplomatic efforts hinge on a truce proposal drafted last year by CIA chief George Tenet and a plan for renewed peace talks outlined by an international commission headed by former Sen. George Mitchell.
The provisions include a call for Israel to pull back troops to positions they held before fighting erupted in September 2000. The Palestinians would make an all-out effort to prevent attacks on Israelis.
Meanwhile, the Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo were discussing the Saudi peace proposal, which calls for Arab countries to offer Israel peace, trade and security in return for withdrawal from Arab lands it captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Diplomats are trying to get the proposal ready for a March 27-28 Arab summit in Beirut.
In another development, Palestinian authorities arrested Majdi Rimawi, the fifth and final suspect that Israel had demanded be arrested in the October assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, Palestinian officials said.
Israel has said Arafat must arrest all suspects before it would lift its travel ban on the Palestinian leader, who has been confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah since December. Arafat is pushing hard to be able to attend the Arab summit in Beirut.