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Two Israelis, militant killed on election day

Written by: Staff
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JERUSALEM, Mar 28 (Reuters) A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip killed two Israeli Arab shepherds and Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian militant in the West Bank today as Israelis voted in a general election.

The violence underscored the persistent conflict from which interim Israeli Prime Minister and election favourite Ehud Olmert hopes to break by taking unilateral steps to impose a border with the Palestinians if peacemaking remains frozen.

Medics said the two shepherds, a man and a child, were killed in southern Israel by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

The army was checking whether the rocket was fired or had lain unexploded before being disturbed by the shepherds.

Palestinian militants regularly fire rockets from Gaza, which Israel withdrew from last year after 38 years of occupation, but the makeshift missiles rarely cause casualties.

Near the West Bank city of Jenin, Israeli soldiers shot dead an Islamic Jihad militant during an exchange of fire, sources on both sides said. Israel said the gunman was wanted for involvement in violence against Israel.

Israel frequently raids militant hideouts in West Bank towns.

REFERENDUM ON OLMERT'S PLAN Today's Israeli election is widely seen as a referendum on Olmert's plan to uproot some West Bank settlements while enlarging others to impose Israel's final borders if peacemaking stays on hold.

Rightist opponents of giving up Gaza or parts of the West Bank argue that such withdrawals encourage militants to fire rockets and carry out other attacks.

Negotiations on Palestinian statehood in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank collapsed before the start of a Palestinian uprising in 2000. Chances for reviving talks have looked even slimmer since Hamas Islamic militants, formally committed to destroying Israel, won Palestinian elections in January.

Hamas has nonetheless respected a year-old truce more than some other Palestinian factions.

Members of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group within President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah, put on a show of rockets, mortars and grenades in the Gaza Strip today and vowed to intensify attacks on Israel.

They said they had developed rockets that could hit the nearby city of Ashkelon and planned to launch them in an operation dubbed ''Volcano of Fire''.

REUTERS DKS BS1733

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