Israeli troops on Saturday shot to death two Palestinian militants who entered an unauthorized military zone near a security barrier separating Gaza from Israel, army and Palestinian sources said.
Meanwhile, in an interview with a British newspaper, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat warned that “time is running out for the two-state solution” to the conflict with Israel.
Arafat told the British daily The Guardian that Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, together with Israel’s construction of a massive barrier that cuts into West Bank land, will prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
Israel says it needs the 450-mile barrier of fences, walls and trenches to protect it from suicide bombers and other attackers. The Palestinians say the barrier, which dips deep into the West Bank to wrap around Jewish settlements, amounts to a land grab that will make it impossible to build an independent state there.
A decade of peace talks — as well as the latest peace plan, the U.S.-backed “road map” — have been based on the idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside Israel.
Militants may have been planning an attack
In the Gaza strip, Palestinian sources said two men killed by Israeli troops were members of the militant Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. Soldiers shot the men as they neared the fence separating Gaza from Israel.
The men were identified as Ashraf al-Imbayed, 25, who was wearing a military-style jacket, and a distant relative from the same family clan, Samir al-Imbayed, 23.
The men were unarmed, but were carrying binoculars and cell phones, possible signs that they were planning an attack, the army said.
The military said it had received warnings that militants were planning an attack, and soldiers were continuing searches in the area near the Israeli village of Nahal Oz.
The area near the barrier is off limits to Palestinians and has been a frequent site of violence, the army said.
It said militant groups have recently tried to plant explosives or infiltrate into Israel near Nahal Oz. But Palestinians say farmers wandering into the area also have been targeted.
Hundreds of Palestinians, some of them carrying weapons, joined the men’s funeral procession through Gaza City later Saturday. The men’s bodies were wrapped in Palestinian flags. One mourner addressed the crowd outside a mosque, promising to avenge their deaths.
Elsewhere in Gaza, the military said Palestinians attacked an army force with automatic rifle fire and fired seven anti-tank missiles. Soldiers returned fire. But, no injuries were reported in the shooting along Gaza’s border with Egypt.