AL KHADER, West Bank (AP) -- As Israel and the Palestinians on Wednesday tried to arrange their first high-level direct talks in six weeks, Israeli troops traded heavy fire with Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank, killing a Palestinian policeman and wounding four Israeli soldiers -- one seriously.
The wounded soldiers were trapped in the cross fire for nearly an hour before being evacuated to a hospital. At the Karni crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, two more Palestinians died in a firefight. Four others were killed there Tuesday.
Israel's elder statesman Shimon Peres was trying to organize talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for Wednesday or Thursday to clear the air after 35 days of fighting that has left 151 people dead -- mostly Palestinian.
In the Gaza Strip, more than 20,000 Palestinians joined a funeral for five of the six Palestinians killed in the past two days at the Karni crossing.
The crowd repeated slogans shouted over a loudspeaker mounted on the lead truck. "Goodbye, martyrs, we will meet in paradise," they chanted. "We will take revenge against the Israelis, and this will happen soon."
The firefight in the West Bank village of Al Khader lasted for several hours. Villagers caught on the street took cover behind walls as heavy fire from all directions hit the main road. When it became clear that four Israeli soldiers had been wounded and were trapped, Israel brought in two helicopters that fired machine guns. A Palestinian policeman was killed in the fighting.
Despite the violence, Israel and the Palestinians tried to arrange their first top-level meeting since mid-September. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat both attended a U.S.-sponsored Mideast summit in Egypt on Oct. 17, but refused to meet face-to-face.
Peres, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Arafat in 1994 as architects of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, said he did not have high expectations for his meeting with the Palestinian leader. Nonetheless, "I just think that, even when there is shooting, we need to talk," Peres told Israel army radio.
He said he expected Arafat to give a clear commitment to a truce agreement arranged at the Mideast summit by President Clinton.
Israel's top peace negotiator, Gilead Sher, also will participate in the talks, expected to be held in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem.
Arafat met Wednesday with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Gaza City, saying he was grateful for the visit "at a time when we are subjected to military attacks." Arafat said Germany has agreed to treat 50 wounded Palestinians.
The Palestinian leader asked for greater European involvement in peace talks. Germany, however, has declined so far, limiting its role to financial aid.
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