Palestinian Gunmen Kill Two Israeli Troops; Israeli Helicopter Shoots, Kills Two Palestinians

Two Palestinian gunmen attacked an army post in the West Bank early Thursday, killing two Israeli soldiers before being shot dead themselves by security forces.

In the Gaza Strip, an Israeli helicopter firing machine guns killed two Palestinians.

The violence came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was building a coalition after his Likud Party's election victory last week. The government taking shape is likely to feature hawkish parties demanding even harsher measures against the Palestinians.

The Israeli soldiers were killed when two Palestinian gunmen tried to infiltrate an army post on Mt. Gerizim, near the West Bank city of Nablus, the army said. Two soldiers were injured in the attack and the assailants were killed.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical PLO faction, claimed responsibility for what they said was a joint attack.

On the eastern edge of Gaza City, an Israeli helicopter fired a machine gun, killing two Palestinians, Palestinians said. Militants often set up rockets there to fire at a nearby village in Israel, Nahal Oz. Doctors said the two men, in their 20s, were working at a nearby home for the aged.

Israeli military sources said that during an operation in Gaza, helicopters fired at open spaces to deter attackers, and they were not aware of anyone being hit.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav, meanwhile, wound up consultations with party leaders and was preparing to ask Sharon to form a new government. The process was just a formality, after Sharon's Likud and its hawkish allies won a clear majority in the parliament.

Sharon has said he wants to team up with the dovish Labor Party in a centrist "national unity" government, but so far Labor has refused. Labor lost considerable support in its 20 months in Sharon's previous government, perceived as giving legitimacy to Sharon's escalating military measures against the Palestinians.

Without Labor, Sharon might form a coalition with hawkish and Orthodox Jewish parties, where sentiment is strong for harsher measures to stop Palestinian attacks, including the expulsion of Arafat.