JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli troops exchanged fire with Palestinian gunmen in a West Bank town Wednesday and arrested 17 suspected militants during a separate incursion into a Palestinian village.
Despite the renewed fighting, which killed a Palestinian man and wounded two others, Israeli and Palestinian security commanders met for the first time in a week to try to shore up a tentative truce.
Palestinian officials said the two sides agreed on a number of steps to ease daily life in the Gaza Strip, including the rebuilding of the landing strip at Gaza International Airport that was destroyed by Israeli bulldozers earlier this month.
The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which has been closed off-and-on over the past 15 months of fighting, was to reopen Thursday, said Brig. Gen. Abdel Razek Majadie, Palestinian police commander in Gaza.
Also Wednesday, the Israeli military lifted its blockade of the West Bank town of Jericho, permitting residents to enter and leave. Like other Palestinian communities, Jericho had been under closure for most of the past year.
Israel say the restrictions are necessary to prevent attacks by militants on Israelis. The Palestinians say the travel ban is collective punishment.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres expressed modest optimism Wednesday that talks might get back on track.
Despite a sharp drop in tension in recent days, a gunfight erupted Wednesday on the outskirts of Jenin. The Israeli military said Palestinians opened fire on Israeli troops near the Jewish settlement of Kadim, then sought refuge in a house in Jenin, which is under Palestinian control.
Israeli tanks drove about 300 yards into Jenin in pursuit of the gunmen, residents said. The military said soldiers encircled the house and fired two tank shells. Palestinian witnesses said Israeli soldiers in helicopters also fired at the house from machine guns, killing a 50-year-old bystander. Two Palestinians, including a policemen, were wounded in an ensuing gunfight.
Earlier Wednesday, Israeli troops entered the village of Azun, which is under joint Israeli-Palestinian control, and arrested 17 suspected militants, the army said. Five of those arrested were Palestinian policemen, according to the mayor.
Israel's government, meanwhile, continued to absorb criticism from abroad and at home for barring Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, Jesus' traditional birthplace.
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