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Killings overshadow Mideast talks

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Two Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers hours before stalled Mideast peace talks were due to resume.

Israel's army said on Thursday its soldiers fired at Palestinians trying to penetrate a Jewish settlement in Gaza overnight.

The Red Crescent Society humanitarian and medical organization, confirmed two Palestinians were killed.

A third Palestinian, who said he was with the other two, said the three of them were not trying to infiltrate but were sitting on a sandy hill talking when they came under fire from the Israeli settlement.

An Israeli army statement said the soldiers prevented an attempt by three Palestinians to penetrate the fence surrounding the Gush Katif bloc of settlements near the Rafiah Yam settlement.

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It said two Palestinians were apparently wounded.

Palestinian hospitals said they received the bodies of two men. Witnesses said they were found near Gush Katif.

The killings come as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are due to resume peace talks in Taba, Egypt.

The talks, which began last Sunday, were suspended pending the funerals for two Israelis killed in the West Bank.

Motti Dayan and Etgar Zeituni were killed on Tuesday after being seized as they ate lunch with an Israeli Arab business associate in the Palestinian-controlled town of Tulkarem.

Their bodies were dumped by the side of the road and the Israeli Arab was freed, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said.

The Palestinian Authority issued a statement denouncing the killings, with Qorei adding: "We condemn the killing of all civilians."

But a senior Israeli military official said the Israel Defense Forces view the killings as further evidence that the Palestinian Authority was doing little to prevent the killing of Israeli civilians.

Ahmed Qorei, the head of the Palestinian delegation, confirmed to CNN on Wednesday that Israeli negotiators will return to the talks.

It is understood that so far progress has been made on all four core issues that will form the basis of any projected agreement.

CNN has learned talks have addressed West Bank land, the future of Jerusalem, security arrangements and the thorniest -- the disposition of Palestinian refugees.

Regarding the refugee question, the head of the Palestinian delegation said there has been considerable progress not only on the question of how to take historic responsibility for the refugee question, but also practical aspects of resolving it. But he pointed out there were still gaps in the talks, and decisions to be made.

The Israelis had reportedly scaled down a demand that they be allowed to keep 11 percent of the West Bank, lowering their position to seven percent -- much closer to the four or six percent proposed by former U.S. President Bill Clinton before he left office.

The Palestinians reportedly had responded favorably and submitted counter-proposals.

The Israeli Government has said it will "lay its hands on the lowly murderers and will punish them with all severity of the law."

More than 400 people -- 343 Palestinians, according to Red Crescent, and 49 Israeli Jews and 13 Israeli Arabs, according to the Israel Defense Forces -- have been killed in the violence since September 28 last year.



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RELATED SITES:
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Palestinian National Authority
Palestine Red Crescent Society
PLO Negotiations Affairs Deparment
Israel Defense Forces

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