Palestinians were braced Sunday for possible Israeli retaliation after a soldier was killed by a Palestinian policeman at an army outpost.
The continued violence provided an unwelcome backdrop to the latest UN diplomatic initiative to revive the moribund Middle East peace process.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan faces a steep challenge in his bid to convince Israel to allow an observer force into the Palestinian territories, where a deadly shoot-out on Saturday left one Israeli soldier and a Palestinian dead.
Annan said Friday that he would consult with Israelis and Palestinians about sending observers to halt the seven-week uprising that has left more than 240 dead, mostly Palestinians killed by Israeli troops.
In the latest violence, a Palestinian policeman entered an Israeli army outpost in the Gaza Strip, killing a 21-year-old soldier and wounding two others before being shot dead.
The killings came a day after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat urged his people to silence their guns against Israeli targets from Palestinian-controlled areas. The incident prompted the Palestinian Authority to announce an unprecedented probe.
"The Palestinian Authority has opened an investigation into the incident which took place at the Israeli settlement of Kefar Darom," a Palestinian official, who asked not to be named, said.
He also appealed to Israelis not to seek reprisals.
"We are demanding Israelis not to resort to aggression against our people and our organizations. Such action could only have a negative impact on the situation and make it worse," the official said.
Palestinian officials said that shortly after the attack, Israeli helicopters fired rockets on an installation of Force 17, Arafat's elite private guard near the Gush Katif Jewish settlement in the southern Gaza Strip, wounding four Palestinians, one of them seriously.
But Israeli army commander in southern Gaza, Yom-Tov Samia, said Israeli helicopters had not launched an attack.
"We deny this report, but reserve the right to retaliate," he warned.
In other violence on Saturday, six Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank town of Hebron and a nearby village.
At the United Nations headquarters in New York, Secretary General Annan told Security Council members his first priority in his talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials was to stop the violence.
"I appeal to the Israelis to use non-lethal methods of riot control and I appeal to the Palestinians to do all they can to stop the violence," he said.
But in Jerusalem, an advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Saturday that international observers could only be allowed if and when a peace agreement was reached with the Palestinians.
"Nothing has changed at the moment," David Baker, a media advisor to Barak told AFP.
Israeli officials maintain that an international observer mission already present in the divided West Bank town of Hebron has failed to halt the violence.
Meanwhile US Defense Secretary William Cohen warned Saturday, during a Gulf tour, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could run out of control and spread into neighboring countries.
He also warned that the United States must remain on maximum alert against possible further terrorist attacks in the region, referring to the October 12 suicide bombing of a US navy destroyer in Aden harbor that killed 17 sailors.
"The problem is that there is so much violence going on in the Middle East. Every day brings a new funeral, every funeral brings outrage, until someday it goes out of control," he told US soldiers in Qatar – JERUSALEM (AFP)
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