Armed Palestinian Killed in West Bank Raids

Israeli troops killed an armed Palestinian and blew up two houses of suspected militants Tuesday in their second West Bank (search) raid in as many days.

The attacks marked an end to a lull in violence and cast a shadow over talks in Egypt (search) this week designed to win a pledge from Palestinian militants to permanently stop attacks on Israel.

Also, a senior Israeli official criticized Secretary of State Colin Powell's (search) embrace of the "Geneva Accord," an alternate peace plan launched Monday by unofficial Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

Powell is "making a mistake," Israeli Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israel Radio.

At the meeting in Cairo, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said he hoped to secure a cease-fire commitment from Palestinian factions. He then planned to present a truce offer to Israel, work out a cease-fire and reopen talks on the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.

Since Qureia formed a new Cabinet last month, there has been a sharp drop in fighting, and Israeli and Palestinian officials have been meeting to arrange a summit between Qureia and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"We want this meeting to be successful. Because of that, we are still working on the schedule," Qureia's Cabinet chief, Hassan Abu Libdeh, said of those efforts.

Abu Libdeh said he remained optimistic about the Cairo talks, noting that Qureia had discussed the cease-fire efforts with the militant groups earlier this month in Gaza, and that those talks had gone well.

But other Palestinians warned the renewed Israeli military operations could sabotage attempts by the Palestinian Authority to broker a truce.

"The latest Israeli escalation seriously threatens the dialogue in Cairo and puts serious obstacles in front of taking a decision to implement calm," said Ahmad Ghneim, a delegate from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

Israel used 25 jeeps and armored personnel carriers in Tuesday's raid in the West Bank town of Jenin. Soldiers went house to house in search of militants, witnesses said.

Gun battles erupted, and residents said they subsequently found the body of Amjad Saadi, a militant from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, an armed group with ties to Fatah. Two civilians were wounded, witnesses said.

The army said troops tried to arrest the militant and opened fire after he ignored calls to halt. Soldiers fired warning shots, the army said. Four other wanted men were arrested in the raid.

In the nearby village of Silat Al Harthiya, troops destroyed two homes of members of the Islamic Jihad group and arrested three Palestinians, the army said.

Also Tuesday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian militant who threw a grenade at an Israeli car traveling north of the West Bank city of Ramallah, military officials said. Several other militants fled, and soldiers shot and captured one of them, Israel Radio said. No passengers in the car were injured.

Residents in the area identified the dead Palestinian as 16-year-old Mohammed Zahran and said the Palestinian who was wounded and taken away was 14. Israeli rescue services said the wounded boy was taken to an Israeli hospital.

On Monday, Israeli troops killed three Hamas fugitives and a 9-year-old boy in Ramallah and blew up an apartment building, leaving 60 people homeless.

The latest raid came a day after the launch of the "Geneva Accord," a symbolic peace agreement negotiated by Israeli opposition figures and prominent Palestinians, including Cabinet ministers and legislators.

The blueprint calls for a Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank and Gaza and part of Jerusalem, and avoids a significant influx of Palestinian refugees into Israel.

While the United States remains committed to the road map, which leaves many issues open to negotiation, the State Department has praised the Geneva effort. Powell is expected to meet with the lead negotiators of the Geneva plan in the next week.

Powell's support for the plan drew criticism from Olmert, who is a close ally of Sharon.

"I think that he is not being useful to the process," Olmert said. "This is an incorrect step by a senior representative of the American administration."

The United States is Israel's closest ally, and Israeli officials rarely use such language, even in times of disagreement.

Hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians joined Nobel Peace Prize winners, including former President Jimmy Carter, for the launch ceremony Monday in Geneva.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have accepted the plan. But it enjoys significant support among the people and has added to the pressure on the leaders to end three years of violence.