Shootings in Mideast precede Powell's visit
Israelis split Gaza in half to limit Palestinian travel
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A Palestinian was shot dead in the West Bank and another critically wounded in Gaza on Friday as violence continued just a day before a visit to the region from new U.S. Secretary of StateColin Powell.
The shootings raised the toll of the dead in five months of clashes between Palestinians and Israelis to 441 -- 367 Palestinians, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, and 61 Israeli Jews and 13 Israeli Arabs, according to Israeli officials.
Powell's scheduled meetings on Saturday with outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon and a Sunday meeting with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat are part of a four-day, six-nation Mideast tour coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the end of the Persian Gulf War.
Powell was to take the first soundings on the status of Mideast peace negotiations for the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, who took office on January 20.
A flurry of diplomatic activity in the weeks leading up to Bush's inauguration and Israeli elections failed to realize a peace agreement. With no agreement, the unpopular Barak was trounced at the polls by Sharon, who promised Israelis he would make no further compromises with the Palestinians.
Sharon, chairman of the right-wing Likud party, is now struggling to form a coalition government, but maintains his commitment to doing so with Barak's left-leaning Labor Party. Barak rejected his offer of the defense portfolio in his administration, but Sharon has continued talks with other Labor officials.
Israelis split Gaza in two
In the West Bank, where many of the deadly clashes between Israelis and Palestinians have taken place, Palestinian hospital officials said a Palestinian man was shot in the chest with live ammunition and killed at Al Khader near Bethlehem.
The Israel Defense Forces acknowledged that Israeli troops fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at a crowd of Palestinians following a funeral at Al Khader, but denied any live ammunition was used.
In Gaza, hospital officials said a Palestinian man had been wounded by a shot to the head. The officials blamed Israeli troops, but the IDF had no immediate comment on the incident.
Earlier, the IDF set up a new checkpoint in Gaza, effectively dividing the area in half and preventing Palestinians from traveling from one end of the area to the other.
"The IDF will divide the Gaza Strip into two sections today, as a result of increased terror activity in the Gaza Strip culminating in last night's firing of mortar bombs toward the settlement of Ele Sinay, in the north of the Gaza Strip," said an IDF spokesman.
"The IDF views the Palestinian Authority responsible for the terrorist operations that have occurred in its territory, and will respond in every manner it finds appropriate in order to ensure the well-being of Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers," she said.
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