Israelis, Palestinians Clash at Security Fence

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Israeli Arab politicians on Tuesday condemned the killing of an Israeli (search) soldier in an Arab-majority area, a day after Israeli soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets to drive back Palestinian (search) protesters trying to cut through a security fence.

The barrier is a major sticking point between Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis say they are constructing the fence to stop militants entering Israel to carry out attacks. Palestinians say it encroaches on Arab land and threatens the "road map" (search) plan for Mideast peace.

In violence early Tuesday, Palestinians opened fire on an Israeli car near the Jewish settlement of Itzhar in the West Bank, slightly wounding an 11-year-old girl, the rescue service said. She was treated at a local clinic and then taken to a hospital.

In Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon prepared to meet President Bush to discuss how to move ahead with the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.

About 200 people -- 140 Palestinians and 60 foreign supporters -- protested Monday at the security fence 10 miles west of the West Bank town of Jenin.

Several tried to cut or push through the fence, and Israeli soldiers fired rubber bullets and tear gas at them, dispersing the crowd. One of the foreigners was wounded in the leg and was taken to a hospital. There were no arrests.

The Israeli newspaper Maariv reported on Monday that Israel would offer to freeze construction of a section of the fence that drives deep into the West Bank, but a government spokesman called the report "speculations."

"The prime minister will explain to President Bush the need for the fence, which is only security-related and is not supposed to create a political border," Sharon aide Avi Pazner said.

The barrier sweeps into Palestinian areas of the West Bank to encircle Jewish settlements, and Palestinians say the project amounts to a land-grab that cuts them off from agricultural fields, towns and jobs. Bush has suggested that the project hinders Mideast confidence-building.

Also Monday, the body of soldier Oleg Shaichat, 20, who disappeared July 21, was found buried in northern Israel, said police spokesman Gil Kleiman. Hundreds of police, soldiers and volunteers had been searching for him.

Police suspected that Shaichat had been abducted either by Palestinians or by Israeli Arabs. Security officials have warned they have intelligence warnings of militants' intentions to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said late Monday that Shaichat was "murdered in cold blood ... immediately after being kidnapped."

Shaichat's disappearance followed the kidnapping of an Israeli taxi driver by Palestinians on July 11. The cabbie was later freed by Israeli commandos, and officials said main Palestinian militant groups were not involved.

Shaichat was last seen by a fellow hitchhiker traveling in a car near the biblical village of Cana in the Galilee, on his way to his home in a nearby Jewish suburb of Nazareth, Israel's largest Arab city.

Israel's Arab minority accounts for almost 20 percent of the population. Always tense, relations between Arab and Jewish communities deteriorated sharply after police killed 13 Israeli Arabs during demonstrations in October 2000, several days after the eruption of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Israeli Arab lawmaker Abdel-Malik Dehamshe, who comes from the area where the soldier's body was found, condemned the killing.

He told the Maariv newspaper that Arab residents "are praying the murderers of Oleg Shaichat did not come from their village. I am certain that if, God forbid, it turns out otherwise, that we will all denounce the murderers."

Another lawmaker, Mohammed Baraka, warned against attempts to "taint any community or impose collective blame."

The main Palestinian militant groups declared a cease-fire on June 29 after nearly three years of violence, but progress on the road map -- which calls for an end to violence and the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005 -- has been slowed by disagreement between Israel and the Palestinians over what should be the next step.