RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian officials said Friday that Israel must pull back its troops and lift sweeping travel restrictions before they would hold an election that would require Yasser Arafat to face voters for the first time in six years.
Israeli officials said the conditions meant Arafat, who is under growing pressure from abroad and at home to reform his corrupt government, is not serious about facing the voters.
In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, meanwhile, Israeli soldiers killed four people: an Israeli Arab woman who was shot dead when soldiers opened fire on her taxi, a 7-year-old boy who was killed during a stone throwing incident and two armed Palestinians who tried to infiltrate into Israeli settlements.
Israeli troops also raided the battle-scarred Jenin refugee camp and detained dozens of Palestinians. An Israeli soldier was wounded, the army said. A Palestinian man was killed in an explosion of a homemade bomb that was planted in the camp by fighters last month, sources in the camp said.
Israel wrapped up a six-week military offensive against Palestinian militias in the West Bank last week, but has continued to carry out arrest raids, such as the one in the Jenin camp.
The incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas illustrate the difficulties the Palestinians would face in preparing for elections.
"We are looking to run the election within six months," said Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath, adding that work had begun on putting together the roster of 1.6 million eligible voters.
"But these elections need an Israeli withdrawal to the places before Sept. 28, 2000," Shaath added, referring to the date the current round of fighting erupted.
Such a withdrawal would require the Israelis to remove dozens of checkpoints and pull back forces outside of major Palestinian cities. The checkpoints restrict most Palestinians to their home towns, cities or villages.
Such a pullback is also part of a U.S.-backed truce plan, whose author, CIA chief George Tenet, is expected to meet in the coming weeks with security officials from both sides.
Arafat, when asked Friday whether elections could take place before an Israeli withdrawal, said: "Definitely not."
"It is very difficult to have elections with occupation," he added.
An Israeli official dismissed the Palestinian calls for a withdrawal. "On the one hand he talks about reforms, now he has an excuse not to execute those reforms," said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "He knows very well that as long as he doesn't take any action against terrorism, the Israeli forces will have to remain there."
Arafat is under pressure from the United States, the European Union and his own people to reform the corruption-ridden Palestinian Authority and to hold elections.
On Thursday, the Palestinian parliament demanded that the Cabinet be disbanded and a new one be formed within 45 days. It also called for elections by the beginning of 2003.
Despite growing misgivings about Arafat's autocratic leadership style, Palestinians continue to see him as a symbol of their struggle for independence.
The only challenger so far is Abdel Sattar Qassem, a Palestinian political scientist and dissident jailed for 14 months by Arafat's security forces. Qassem, a 53-year-old professor at An Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus, said Friday he would run on an anti-corruption platform.
Qassem is Western-educated and secular, but sympathizes with Islamic militant groups and supports suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. He does not recognize Israel, and opposes the interim peace agreements Arafat has made with Israel.
In the Askar refugee camp near Nablus, Israeli soldiers fired tank-mounted machine guns at stone-throwing Palestinians on Friday, killing 7-year-old Amid Abu Sir, witnesses said. Six others were wounded, including three boys in their early teens, Palestinian doctors said. Abu Sir was in his home, but the large-caliber bullets penetrated the house, witnesses and relatives said.
The army said it was checking the report.
In the northern West Bank, soldiers killed an Israeli Arab woman who was driving in a car toward an Israeli army convoy, the army said. The military said the car was being driven "in a suspicious manner."
An armed Palestinian was killed in an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip when he tried to enter the Jewish settlement of Dugit, the Israeli military said. The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militia linked to Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the attempted infiltration.
In the West Bank settlement of Beit El, a security guard shot and killed an armed Palestinian who was trying to infiltrate into the settlement, the Israeli army said. The guard was severely wounded in an exchange of fire with the gunman.
In the Jenin refugee camp, the scene of the heaviest fighting in the military offensive, Israeli soldiers surrounded the home of Jamal Abu Alhija, the local leader of the militant Islamic group Hamas. Alhija was not home and the soldiers hurled grenades into the house, burning it to the ground, the military said.
Palestinians said 40 camp residents were detained, while the army said troops arrested 24 people.
Last month, 23 Israeli soldiers and more than 50 Palestinians were killed in battles in the refugee camp.