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Palestinian police clash with militants in West Bank; 3 hurt
MIDEAST ISRAEL PALE 5117017
In this photo released by the Government Press Office, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, stands with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert prior to their meeting in Jerusalem, Monday, May 5, 2008. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas planned to press Israel on Jewish settlements and military roadblocks in the West Bank on Monday, a Palestinian official said, two issues given prominent mention by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her latest diplomatic mission in the region. - photo by Associated Press
    QABATIYEH, West Bank — Hundreds of newly deployed Palestinian police clashed with militants in this small town Tuesday, a sign of the challenges facing President Mahmoud Abbas’ government in reining in gunmen in the West Bank.
    Three people were wounded in exchanges of fire, one critically.
    The police deployment is part of a security program by Abbas’ prime minister, Salam Fayyad, to assert control in the West Bank in line with promises to Israel and the U.S.
    Israel has repeatedly complained that Abbas is not moving fast enough against militants — seen as a key condition for the success of peace talks between the two sides.
    Tuesday’s fighting erupted during an attempt by police to impose order in the Jenin district, which includes the militant stronghold Qabatiyeh.
    Hundreds of Palestinian police were sent to the Jenin district last week in the second stage of the plan. Palestinian security forces took up positions in the West Bank city of Nablus several months ago.
    Before dawn Tuesday, Palestinian forces entered Qabatiyeh, a town of about 15,000 about six miles south of the town of Jenin. Security commander Diab Ali said the policemen were attacked by local militants, while a leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group said police fired first.
    Sporadic exchanges of fire continued throughout the morning, with gunmen firing from surrounding hills and police taking cover in shops and behind buildings.
    In the morning, a 21-year-old university student was shot in the head and put on life support. During a subsequent stone-throwing protest, two people were shot in the legs by police, witnesses said. Most shops were closed and the streets deserted.
    Jamal Zakout, a spokesman for the prime minister, said the security forces would not back down. ‘‘The government is determined to impose law and order, by force, in this town,’’ he said.
    Abbas’ ability to assert control is seen as key to reaching a peace deal and to dispelling Israeli fears that he’s too weak to implement a future agreement. Israel’s critics say the Israeli government is not doing enough to strengthen the Palestinian leader, and that ongoing Israeli army raids in areas where Palestinian forces have deployed, such as Nablus, are undermining Abbas.
    In other developments, Israeli officials said Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman is coming to Israel on Monday as part of efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and the Abbas’ rival Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
    Palestinian militants routinely fire rockets toward Israel, and Israel often responds with deadly incursions and airstrikes in Gaza.
    Israel and Hamas both seem eager to halt the violence. Hamas wants Gaza’s borders to be reopened, while Israel wants Hamas to release a captive Israeli soldier.
    Earlier, a Hamas militant was killed in an Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza, medics said. The Israeli military said one of its aircraft targeted and hit a group of armed men near the Gaza-Israel border.
    ———
    Associated Press writer Ali Daraghmeh in Nablus contributed to this report.