Two Palestinians Killed in West Bank Gunfights

Israel's Supreme Court handed a temporary victory to opponents of a contentious West Bank barrier, ordering a weeklong halt to construction of a sensitive section while the army considers alternatives.

The decision Sunday froze construction on a complex of fences northeast of Jerusalem, just across the line in the West Bank, where two Palestinians were killed last week during a protest.

Under intense international pressure, Israeli officials had already pledged to change the route of the barrier to ease hardships on Palestinians.

Also Sunday, two Palestinian militants were killed in West Bank clashes with Israeli forces. Soldiers entered the Balata refugee camp next to the city of Nablus and traded fire with militants, killing Mohammed Zuheir Oweis, 23, Palestinians said.

Oweis was part of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (search), a violent group linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

A few hours later, during Oweis' funeral, another clash erupted and a second Palestinian, Iyad Abu Shalal, was killed. Security officials said he was involved in a December ambush that wounded seven Jewish worshippers returning from an unauthorized visit to a holy site in Nablus.

In another development, Israeli police said they had arrested three Palestinian boys who said they were on their way to carry out an attack in the Israeli city of Afula.

The boys are 12, 13 and 15, among the youngest arrested in three years of conflict. Relatives said they left behind letters indicating they did not expect to return alive from their mission.

The father of one boy said he was furious with militant groups for recruiting the children.

At the Israeli Supreme Court (search) hearing, Palestinian and Israeli opponents of Israel's West Bank barrier won a restraining order against the military, allocating a week for the military to hear complaints and consider a new route.

On Thursday, protesters tried to stop bulldozers from leveling land for the barrier on the West Bank side of the boundary with Israel, opposite a Jewish suburb. Israeli soldiers opened fire, killing two Palestinians and wounding more than a dozen.

According to present plans, the barrier is to run 400 miles around and in the West Bank, carving out large chunks that would remain under Israeli control and isolating many Palestinian towns and villages.

The Haaretz daily reported Sunday that Israel has told the United States it would make further changes in the route, canceling some sections that extend into the West Bank to protect Jewish settlements and eliminating some double fences that would trap thousands of Palestinians.

Mohammed Dahla, a lawyer for the Popular Committee Against the Wall (search) — which includes Palestinians and Israelis — told the court that the section of the fence near Jerusalem would imprison 30,000 Palestinians in eight towns and villages by encircling them.

A single gate would allow them to exit the area, effectively cutting them off from both Jerusalem and nearby Ramallah.

"There is no reason ... to cut these residents off from their community, from their society," Dahla said. "You can't just enclose people in corrals."

Israel insists that the barrier is necessary to block Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers. Palestinians call it a land grab aimed at preventing them from setting up a state.

About one-quarter of the barrier is complete, in the northern section of the West Bank. Israeli officials say it has already prevented suicide bombings in the part of Israel opposite the barrier.

An Israeli military court on Sunday found an army captain guilty of negligence in the October 2002 killing of a Palestinian teenager who was studying in his house when he was hit by a stray bullet.

An army statement said the officer showed "clear negligence" when he opened fire to disperse stone-throwing youths in the West Bank village of Nazlat Zeid (search), killing Mohammed Zeid, 16.

The officer will be sentenced later. Palestinians complain that few soldiers are prosecuted for such killings.