JERUSALEM (AP) -- With the Mideast reeling from the deadliest week in 17 months of fighting, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he would ease his demand for a week of calm before implementing a U.S. truce plan.
Israeli forces were in action Saturday in two cities in the West Bank and two more in the Gaza Strip, staging helicopter missile attacks, bulldozing homes and rounding up Palestinian men as part of a search for suspected militants.
A 15-year-old Palestinian girl was shot dead in the West Bank and several Palestinians were wounded, Palestinian officials said.
A day earlier, the Israeli military offensive left at least 39 Palestinians dead, including some civilians, as the Israeli troops attacked positions held by armed Palestinians. Five Israeli teen-agers and one soldier were also killed.
More than 100 Palestinians and more than 30 Israelis died in the seven-day period ending Friday -- the highest toll during any week since the conflict erupted, mounting into the double digits every day.
Sharon, meanwhile, announced the shift in his position on Israeli television Friday after speaking to Secretary of State Colin Powell and following stern words from Powell's spokesman.
"Negotiations to stop the shooting will be (held) under fire," Sharon said. "These are the negotiations to achieve a cease-fire."
Sharon has insisted for months that he was not prepared to begin taking the steps outlined in the U.S. cease-fire proposal until there was a full week without fighting.
Sharon's statement was met with skepticism from the Palestinian side.
"Words are not enough. Sharon and his government have to stop their continuous massacres against Palestinian civilians, cities villages and refugee camps," said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "There is no military solution."
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