Reports of violence and death from both the Palestinian and Israeli sides continued over the weekend in advance of a planned visit of U.S. envoys William Burns and Anthony Zinni to try to help end the ongoing conflict.
Palestinian sources said Israeli troops stationed in the outskirts of the West Bank town of Bethlehem shot dead a 13-year-old Palestinian boy. Palestinian medical sources at Beit Jalla Hospital said that Kifah Obeid was brought to the hospital on Sunday in serious condition with three gunshots in the chest and abdomen, and then died two hours later of his wounds.
In Rafah town, Palestinian eyewitnesses said that a 31-year-old pregnant woman was shot in her abdomen and left hand when Israeli troops stationed on the borders between Gaza Strip and Egypt fired at Palestinians.
Medical sources at Rafah Hospital said that Sa'deya Hassanein was at her home when Israeli troops suddenly opened fire.
The United States is planning a concerted effort to help establish a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians. U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell's newly appointed senior adviser, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, is due in Jerusalem with Assistant Secretary of State for near Eastern Affairs William Burns to try and arrange for a halt to the violence which has derailed the Middle East peace process.
In light of the recent escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, Palestinian authority officials said they were not expecting much from the mission of Burns and Zinni that will start on Monday.
"I cannot predict if they (US envoys) will succeed or not," Palestinian information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo told United Press International.
However, Abed Rabbo said that "(Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon wants to bring the whole region into an ocean of bloods, and destroy the efforts of the US envoys before they practice pressure on him to stop settlements, withdraw from the Palestinian territories and resume peace talks."
General Amin El Hindi, chief of secret intelligence, said that the Israeli side wants to undermine the security situation in the region, in order to bring the two U.S. envoys to a shock, and make them have a first impression that it is hard to negotiate with the Palestinians."
Hamas leader in Gaza, Isma'eel Abu Shanab, said that the United States is relying on offering empty promises to the Palestinians.
"The moment when Israel commits massacres against the Palestinians, the U.S. is silent, and says the Palestinians should end 'terrorism' and when one Israel occupier is killed, U.S. accused the Palestinians of being terrorists," he said.
The Islamic Hamas movement violently oppose the peace process and its armed wing has carried out a series of deadly attacks into Israel that have killed dozens of people.
"The major aim of the U.S. efforts is not to practice pressure on Israel and fulfill its promises to the Palestinians to get their independent state, but the aim is to stop the intifada and the Palestinian jihad against Israel," said Abu Shanab.
Palestinian gunmen on Saturday fired a mortar into the Gaza Strip settlement of Kfar Darom, killing one soldier, injuring two others and sparking an Israeli armored and air response.
The mortar bombing was launched several hours after the Israeli army apologized for having planted a bomb that killed five children in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, expressed "deep sorrow" over their deaths, and promised to continue its investigation "to its conclusion."
It said it had planted the bomb in a sandbag position from which Palestinians used to launch mortar attacks.
The attack on Kfar Darom occurred at about 8 p.m. local time when some 200 youngsters belonging to a Jewish orthodox youth movement gathered at the settlement's basketball court.
Palestinian security sources said the Israeli army retaliated for the attack in central Gaza Strip by entering a few hundred meters into Palestinian-controlled territory with tanks and bulldozers.
The three tanks drove some 200 meters into Deir El Balah, next to Kfar Darom at about midnight, and unleashed heavy gunfire while the bulldozers demolished a two-store building, fruit trees and olive trees and churned up several hectares of land.
The Israel Defense Forces spokesman said the troops attacked a Palestinian intelligence position in Khan Yunes, the regional offices of Fatah, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's party, in Deir al-Balah, and a Palestinian naval police base in Sudaniya. All the targets are in the Gaza Strip.
The IDF spokesman said that in the past month more than 70 mortar bombs were fired at Israeli settlements and army positions in the strip.
The radical Islamic Hamas movement assumed responsibility for the attack on Kfar Darom.
Hamas' armed wing, Izel Dein El Kassam, said the attack was an immediate response to the killing of 12 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza over the last two days, among them the five schoolchildren playing at the hidden bomb.
The Israel Defense Forces spokesman said Saturday evening, "an initial investigation" indicates the children had been handling "a device that was placed by an IDF force in the sandbag position used by Palestinians for firing and other sabotage activities against Israelis."
The site was on outskirts of the southern Gaza Strip town Khan Yunes, a few hundred meters from the Israeli lines.
The IDF spokesman said Palestinians had erected a sandbag position there from which they fired, "daily" at Israeli soldiers and settlers.
"Palestinians used this position to launch mortars and fire anti-tank grenades and light weapons," the statement said.
The army stressed the activity was in an open area and "was directed against terrorists."
Its announcement came after three days in which the army was officially mum on what happened there, but well-informed sources said they believed the bomb had been Israeli. Israel Radio said the army had tried to mislead reporters in not-for-attribution conversations suggesting the children were killed by a dud.
The issue prompted an opposition Knesset member, former minister Ran Cohen of the dovish Meretz Party, to call for a watchdog parliamentary committee that would check the accuracy of the army spokesman's announcements. Cohen said there were several cases in which the spokesman issued wrong information.
Meanwhile, at least 20,000 Palestinians demonstrated Saturday evening in Gaza City's main streets calling for revenge for the Israeli's targeted killing Friday night of Mahmoud Abu Honoud. Abu Honoud was killed with two associates. Palestinian sources said were killed by helicopter fire.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer described the targeted assassination of Abu Honoud as "possibly the more important and more critical operation, as far as we are concerned, since the beginning of the Intifada."
The Prime Minister's Office said Abu Honud had been behind several deadly attacks, including the dispatching of five suicide bombers. Abu Honud preparing yet another suicide attack, the Prime Minister's Office said.
In other incidents Saturday, a soldier was injured in an attack near Haris, in the West Bank, and an apartment was damaged in Gilo, a neighborhood of southern Jerusalem. Palestinians fired several shots at Gilo, police said. Earlier, Palestinians fired rockets towards the northern Gaza Strip settlement of Dugit, but there were no injuries.
(With reporting by Saud Abu Ramadan in Gaza and Joshua Brilliant in Tel Aviv)