JERUSALEM – Two Israeli soldiers and two Palestinians were killed Thursday in a gunbattle a near a West Bank community that is home to the biblical Samaritan sect.
In the Gaza Strip, fire from an Israeli helicopter killed two Palestinian nurses at a home for the elderly.
In northern Israel, police killed an Arab citizen after he stabbed an officer.
The violence came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as building a coalition after his Likud Party won last week’s election. The government taking shape is likely to feature hard-line parties demanding even harsher measures against the Palestinians.
Sharon has said he wants to team up with the moderate Labor Party in a centrist “national unity” government, but so far Labor has refused. Labor lost considerable support in its 20 months in Sharon’s previous government, perceived as giving legitimacy to Sharon’s escalating military measures against the Palestinians.
Without Labor, Sharon might form a coalition with hawkish and Orthodox Jewish parties, where sentiment is strong for harsher measures to stop Palestinian attacks, including the expulsion of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The gunbattle occurred at a post on Mount Gerizim, which overlooks the West Bank city of Nablus. Two Palestinian gunmen opened fire as soldiers were conducting a drill to prepare for just such an attack, military officials said.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militia linked to Arafat’s Fatah movement, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical PLO faction, said the attack was a joint effort.
The fighting confined several hundred Samaritans who live nearby to their homes. The sect has largely managed to avoid Israeli-Palestinian violence.
In Gaza City, dozens of doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers dressed in their white uniforms led a procession of more than 1,000 mourners at the funeral of the two Palestinian nursing home attendants killed by Israeli helicopter fire.
Hospital officials said the two men were in the home at the time. Two other Palestinians were wounded by shots to the chest and were hospitalized in intensive care, hospital officials said.
The army said that the home was not a deliberate target and that the helicopter fire was intended to deter militants in the area who often lob rockets at a nearby Israeli village.
In northern Israel, an Arab man was shot and killed after he stabbed and lightly wounded a policeman and tried to steal another officer’s gun, said police spokesman Gil Kleiman.
The shooting occurred along a major road where security has been very high after Palestinians carried out several suicide bombings there in the past 28 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.