Shootings Erupt Before Israeli Land Transfer, Papal Visit

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel handed over more disputed territory to the Palestinians Tuesday, hours after shooting erupted in another part of the West Bank.

The violence came hours before Pope John Paul's arrival in Israel and hours before talks between Israel and the PA were scheduled to resume in Washington.

Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian woman late Monday at a checkpoint they set up shortly after three Israelis were wounded in a drive-by shooting attack. The Palestinian woman's husband was wounded in the shooting.

According to an army statement, the car in which the woman and her husband were traveling approached the army checkpoint, turned around and knocked down a soldier as the couple tried to escape.

An initial investigation revealed that the soldiers, who suspected the occupants of the car might be involved in a terror cell, believed themselves to be in a life-threatening situation and opened fire, the statement said. A further investigation is continuing.

Earlier, three Israelis were shot as they traveled near the PA-controlled area of Tarkumya to distribute gifts to soldiers for the Purim holiday, which began in Israel on Monday evening. The gunfire came from another vehicle parked alongside the road. The assailants then reportedly escaped into a PA area.

"These criminal gunmen are doing all they can to get us to stop the peace process, to bow to the dictates of the shooting, so that the violence will be a deciding factor between us and the Palestinians," Israeli minister Haim Ramon told Army Radio.

Vowing not to bow to violence, Israel transferred another 6.1 percent of Judea and Samaria to the PA on Tuesday, leaving the PA in full or partial control of nearly 40 percent of the territory. More than 95 percent of the Palestinian occupants of the West Bank are now under full or civilian PA rule as a result of the transfer.

"What happened today is a continuation of the peace process. This is a long-delayed handover," said Palestinian security official Fouaz Dawoud at the ceremony.

For the first time, the handover leaves a small Israeli settlement isolated in an area under PA security control, and it means many more Israelis will have to travel through areas under PA control.

Critics say these Israelis will be vulnerable to terror attacks such as the one that happened Monday night.

Negotiations between Israel and the PA are due to resume on Tuesday at the Bolling Air Force base in Washington, after a nearly two-month suspension. The negotiations will take place in seclusion, with some participation from Washington's Mideast envoy Dennis Ross.

Among items on the agenda will be the transfer of additional land to the PA ahead of a final agreement. More than 170,000 Israelis live in communities in the West Bank, in areas the PA wants for a future state.

The sides are aiming to achieve a framework agreement - a basic outline - by May for discussing final status issues, including Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, final borders, refugees and water.