Israeli troops kill 6 Palestinians

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israeli troops backed by helicopter gunships killed at least six Palestinian militants early Wednesday in northern Gaza, hours after Israel's defense minister indicated an openness to resuming long-stalled peace talks on the basis of a Saudi initiative.
The Palestinians' ruling Hamas party said an Israeli soldier also was killed in the operation against rocket-launchers in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. The Israeli military did not confirm the report.
Thirty-three people were wounded in the gun battles, including a woman and an 11-year-old boy, Palestinian hospital officials said. Nearly all the others were armed militants, they said.
The death toll could rise, hospital officials added, because Israel was blocking access to a building where an undetermined number of people were wounded.
On Tuesday, Israeli troops shot and killed three Hamas militants during operations in Gaza.
Israel, which evacuated Gaza in September 2005, re-entered the coastal strip four months ago to try to recover a soldier captured by Hamas-linked militants. The soldier remains in captivity, but the military has since broadened its objectives in Gaza to crush militants' rocket-launching capabilities and target weapons-smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.
The military said 300 rockets have been fired from Beit Hanoun at Israel since the beginning of the year.
Peace moves between Israel and the Palestinians ground to a halt in 2000 after a U.S.-backed effort to wrap up a final agreement crumbled and a Palestinian uprising against Israel reignited. Hamas' victory in January parliamentary elections, and the group's refusal to abandon its violent campaign against Israel, only deepened the rupture.
Israel's war against Hezbollah guerrillas over the summer caused Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to shelve his ambitious plan for a unilateral pullout from much of the West Bank. And the expansion of the government this week to include an ultra-hawkish party made a new peace drive unlikely anytime soon.
Still, the monthlong Lebanon war has re-energized regional efforts to resume peacemaking in an effort to avert further conflict in the region. Within that context, a Saudi land-for-peace proposal has been revived.
On Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz became the most senior Israeli official to publicly consider it.
"We could see the Saudi initiative as the basis for negotiation. This does not mean that we are adopting the Saudi initiative, but it can serve as a basis," Peretz told an academic conference at Tel Aviv University on Tuesday night.
The Saudi plan calls for a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal from lands it captured in the 1967 Mideast war - the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Saudi Arabia also demanded that Israel take back Palestinian refugees from the 1948-49 war that followed the creation of the Jewish state, as well as their descendants - an estimated 4 million people.
Israel rejected a total territorial pullout, and maintained that taking in Palestinian refugees and their descendants would undermine its Jewish character and destroy it from within.
In 2003, the Saudi initiative was overtaken by the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, which called for the establishment of a Palestinian state that would live in peace alongside Israel.
That plan was frozen early on, however, after Israel failed to halt settlement expansion in the Palestinian territories and the Palestinians refused to disarm violent groups.
Israel's official position has been that the "road map" is the only plan on the table now, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev also indicated the Saudi plan could be the basis for talks.
"Israel has never accepted the Saudi initiative but would see positive elements in the initiative, particularly the call for reconciliation and the call for establishing normalized realizations between Israel and her Arab neighbors," Regev told The Associated Press on Tuesday.