ERUSALEM, Oct. 13 — In a message to Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon before his planned visit to Washington
this week, the Bush administration has criticized Israel for
killing Palestinian civilians during its military operations
and for maintaining crippling restrictions on movement in the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The letter, delivered on Friday by the American ambassador
to Israel, Daniel C. Kurtzer, was reported today in the local
press and confirmed by senior Israeli officials; it followed
similar expressions made publicly by Washington last week.
More Palestinian civilian deaths were reported today. A
3-year-old boy was killed during an Israeli Army raid in Rafah
in the southern Gaza Strip in which a militant was also
killed, and a woman was fatally shot near Jenin in the West
Bank when soldiers opened fire on a taxi, Palestinians
The army said it was investigating the fatal shooting of a
60-year-old woman on Friday as she sat on the veranda of her
house in the West Bank city of Nablus. Her son, who witnessed
the shooting, said a soldier in a jeep had fired at the house
In other violence today, two Palestinian gunmen who
infiltrated Israel from Egypt were shot and killed by Israeli
soldiers. In Bethlehem, an explosion near a public phone
killed a local militant, and Palestinians said Israel was
The American message to Mr. Sharon expressed deep concern
over what it described as a significant increase in
Palestinian civilian deaths during recent Israeli Army
operations. It asserted that Israel had failed to keep
promises to ease restrictions on the movements of ordinary
Palestinians hemmed in by checkpoints and blockades of cities
At the weekly meeting of his cabinet today, Mr. Sharon said
that "Israel has great interest in easing conditions for
Palestinians who are not involved in terrorism," but that by
failing to crack down on militants "the Palestinian Authority
does not enable Israel to move ahead with this policy as it
wishes," a cabinet statement said.
A senior Israeli official said the American message
repeated public expressions of American concern after an
Israeli raid on the Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis last week in
which 17 Palestinians were killed and scores wounded.
In an early morning operation in Rafah today, Israeli
forces blew up two houses while destroying a network of
tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt, the army said. The
blasts damaged adjacent houses, and a 3-year-old boy, Tawfik
Baraka, was killed by falling debris, Palestinians said.
Eighteen people were reportedly injured. Ibrahim al-Ghuti, 26,
who the army said was an armed militant, was killed by gunfire
from Israeli tanks.
Near the Israeli border with Egypt south of Rafah, soldiers
shot and killed two Palestinian infiltrators discovered near
the farming community of Yevul, the army said. Palestinians
said the gunmen were originally from Rafah.
In the West Bank, an Israeli tank fired on a taxi van
traveling on a dirt road circumventing Israeli roadblocks
southwest of Jenin, killing Yusra Sawalha, 40, and wounding
two girls, Palestinians said. The army said it had no
information on the incident.
In Bethlehem, an explosion at a public phone booth killed
Muhammad Abayat, 27, a member of the militant Aksa Martyrs
Brigades, an offshoot of the mainstream Fatah faction. The
group accused Israel of responsibility and vowed to respond,
saying it was no longer bound by a cease-fire in the area
agreed as part of an Israeli troop withdrawal from Bethlehem
In Nablus, hundreds of mourners joined the funeral of
Shaden Abu Hijleh, 60, who was killed by Israeli gunfire as
she sat on her veranda on Friday evening during a curfew.
Her son, Saed Abu Hijleh, 36, who was slightly wounded,
said in a telephone interview that a soldier fired the fatal
shots from the back of a jeep on the street near the house
from about 30 yards away. Soldiers in passing jeeps usually
enforced the curfew with concussion grenades or shots in the
air, but the street was quiet on Friday, Mr. Abu Hijleh
"The back door of one of the jeeps opened, and without
warning, without any provocation, without any threat to them —
they could see us eye to eye — they opened automatic fire on
us," he recalled. "Nine bullets penetrated the glass door
where I was standing. They barely missed me."
Mr. Abu Hijleh was wounded by glass fragments, his father
was slightly hurt by a ricocheting bullet, and his mother was
mortally wounded in the chest, he said. "My mom was lying on
the steps," he recalled. "I went over to her and said, `Mom
are you O.K.?,' and she just looked at me with her eyes. I
told her to say a prayer, and she died in my