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Israeli Strike Clouds Leaders' Meeting
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An Israeli missile aimed at militants killed three young Palestinians in a refugee camp Tuesday, clouding prospects for a possible meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders later this week when they attend the same breakfast in Jordan.

Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a car in the crowded Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday afternoon, missing the militants in the car but killing a 5-year-old boy and his 7-year-old sister. A 16-year-old girl also died of her wounds, hospital officials said.

Eight other people were injured in the blast, which Israel's Channel 2 TV said was "another failed assassination attempt, and again innocent civilians were hit." Hundreds of angry Palestinians gathered around the wrecked car in a narrow street.

Israeli and Palestinian officials said the targeted militants were from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, which is linked to the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The men fled the car before the missile hit, the officials said.

The army said it regretted any civilian casualties caused by the airstrike.

Army spokesman Capt. Jacob Dallal said the militants in the car were involved in firing rockets at Israel and blamed the Palestinian government for allowing the attacks.

"When we see people who are actively involved in firing, they are completely legitimate military target," he said, "and we will continue to take every precaution to keep civilians out of harm's way."

Abbas has been eager to resume peace negotiations with Israel, despite the election victory that gave control of the Palestinian parliament to Hamas, an Islamic militant movement that opposes the existence of the Jewish state and has refused to renounce violence.

Israeli officials said Tuesday that they expected little to come from Abbas' encounter with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Jordanian event Thursday. The two leaders haven't met since Hamas won the Jan. 25 election.

Abbas, a political moderate, has been trying to persuade Hamas to accept a plan that would implicitly recognize Israel in hopes of encouraging a return to peace talks and easing a Western aid boycott that has left the Palestinian administration strapped for cash.

Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian officials confirmed that Abbas and Olmert are scheduled to attend a breakfast with other dignitaries at a conference of Nobel laureates hosted by Jordan's King Abdullah II in the ancient town of Petra.

But Israeli and Palestinian officials conceded there were no plans for any summit-like meeting.

"This is not the forum where they're going to discuss the major issues," said Raanan Gissin, an Israeli government spokesman.

Addressing a conference of Zionist leaders in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Olmert said the Palestinian leadership had failed to stop attacks and dismantle violent groups, a requirement for peace talks.

"To my regret, there is no room for optimism on that issue in the near future," he said.

Bringing Olmert and Abbas into the same room will amount to a breakthrough of sorts, however. The last summit was a brief meeting between Abbas and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last June, before Israel's unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip.

Relations have deteriorated since then, in large part because of Hamas' victory over Abbas' Fatah movement in the legislative elections. Sharon remains comatose following a massive stroke in January.

Israeli officials question Abbas' ability to enforce any peace deal since Hamas continues to reject international demands to renounce violence, recognize Israel or accept past agreements.

Olmert has repeatedly said he would be willing to meet with Abbas, but says meaningful peace talks can't take place unless Hamas abandons its calls for Israel's destruction.

If peace efforts remain at a standstill, Olmert plans a unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank while holding on to major settlement blocs and east Jerusalem. Olmert says the plan will solidify Israel's Jewish majority and allow the Palestinians to establish an independent state.

The Palestinians oppose the plan because it falls short of their claims to all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

(Chinadaily.com via agencies June 21, 2006)

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