JERUSALEM – An 11-year-old Palestinian boy was killed Sunday by Israeli gunfire during a demonstration in the West Bank, while Israel's attorney general told Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that "targeted killings" of wanted Palestinians may be used only as a last resort.
The ruling came after recent violence raised concerns about a new escalation in Israeli-Palestinian fighting ahead of Israel's Jan. 28 parliamentary elections.
The Palestinian child, the second killed by Israeli soldiers in as many days, was shot when a group of schoolchildren pelted troops with rocks and bottles in the West Bank town of Tulkarem. Troops responded with rubber-coated bullets, also wounding another Palestinian boy, Palestinian witnesses said.
The military said non-lethal methods were used. These methods often include the rubber-coated bullets, which can kill if used from short range.
In the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians say a 9-year-old girl was killed by Israeli gunfire on Saturday, soldiers opened fire in the direction of about 150 Palestinian demonstrators as they neared an Israeli checkpoint.
A freelance cameraman for Associated Press Television News, Tamer Ziara, was struck in the back of the head, apparently by a ricochet. Doctors said Ziara, 20, was not seriously injured.
Israeli army spokeswoman Capt. Sharon Feingold said the soldiers opened fire on the crowd because they felt endangered. The military said the demonstrators were in an off-limits zone, and soldiers had received warnings about an impending attack there. The military is investigating.
The Palestinians were protesting against severe Israeli travel restrictions on Palestinians in the area, which is near a bloc of Jewish settlements. The area is the scene of almost nightly exchanges of fire between Israeli forces guarding the settlements and Palestinian gunmen from nearby refugee camps.
During the weekly session of the Israeli Cabinet, Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein instructed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to use the practice of killing suspected Palestinian terror suspects only as a last resort.
The ruling followed reports that Sharon had ordered an increase in the practice as part of attempts to stop Palestinian violence.
Israel's so-called "targeted killings" have been criticized by human rights groups and denounced by Palestinians as a policy of assassination. With methods that included exploding phones and helicopter-launched missiles, Israeli forces have killed at least 82 suspects and 52 bystanders that way in 27 months of fighting.
The instance that raised the most criticism came on July 23, when an Israeli warplane dropped a one-ton bomb on the house of senior Hamas figure Salah Shehadeh, killing him, his bodyguard and 13 bystanders, including his wife, daughter, and eight other children.
An Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that Sharon favored an increase in the killings. The official said that they were ordered only when arrest was impossible or when the suspect was a "ticking bomb" and an immediate danger to Israelis.
Also Sunday, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that in the past two months, Israeli forces have arrested more than 1,200 suspected Palestinian militants. He called it an unprecedented campaign.
Palestinians claimed the Israeli goal was to sabotage Egyptian-led truce efforts. Egypt has been hosting talks between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement and radical groups, aiming for a deal ending attacks on Israeli civilians, at least within Israel's pre-1967 borders.
Sources close to the talks said the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups have promised to try calm the situation, provided Israel halts targeted killings of militiamen. Israel has refused to make such a promise, saying it could not agree to a partial moratorium on attacks that excludes the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said Sunday that Egypt would convene all Palestinian factions for a meeting in Cairo in the first week of January to try to work out a joint political platform.
Armed with such a program, the Palestinian Authority would try to negotiate a two-stage truce that would first take hold in Israel and -- after an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian towns and cities -- would extend to the West Bank and Gaza, Shaath said.