Israel-Palestinians deaths drop in 2007

Israel Materials 31 December 2007 06:15 (UTC +04:00)

( AP ) - The number of people killed in Israeli-Palestinian violence dropped dramatically in 2007, according to a report from an Israeli human rights group released Monday.

Israeli forces killed 373 Palestinians during 2007, a 45 percent drop from the previous year, said the report from the group, B'Tselem. Palestinians killed 13 Israelis in the same period, the lowest number of Israeli fatalities since the renewed outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian fighting seven years ago, the report said.

The violence, which has ebbed in recent years, has claimed the lives of more than 4,500 Palestinians and 1,100 Israelis since September 2000.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to restart peace talks at a U.S.-hosted Mideast conference last month in Annapolis, Md., aiming for a peace agreement by the end of 2008.

While the number of fatalities dropped, Israeli security measures aimed at the population of the West Bank remained unchanged in 2007 despite Israeli pledges to ease movement for Palestinians, the report said. Throughout the year there were an average of 102 Israeli checkpoints on the roads of the West Bank, the report said, a number virtually unchanged since 2006.

Israel sees its checkpoints as a central feature of a security policy that has dramatically reduced Palestinian attacks. Palestinians say they unnecessarily cause hardship to civilians and cripple their economy.

Of the Palestinians killed this year, 131 were not engaged in fighting at the time of their death, according to the report. That number includes bystanders, militants killed during arrest raids, Palestinians killed trying to infiltrate Israel from Gaza, and armed members of Palestinian security forces who were not actively involved in hostilities when they were killed.

Most of the Palestinian dead were killed in Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip, controlled by the Islamic group Hamas, where troops regularly clash with militants firing rockets into Israel. A minority were killed in the West Bank, where a moderate government led by Abbas has begun negotiating a peace agreement with Israel.

While Israeli-Palestinian violence subsided somewhat, internal Palestinian fighting this year took its highest toll ever, the report said. At least 344 Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians in 2007, nearly all of them in Gaza during the first half of the year.

That violence, fueled by a bitter power struggle between Hamas and the rival Fatah, largely ended when Hamas routed Fatah and took over Gaza in June.

Of the Israelis killed by Palestinians, seven were civilians and six were security personnel. The civilians were killed in rocket and shooting attacks and in one suicide bombing.