An Israeli soldier and a Palestinian fighter were killed July 17 as Israel mounted a massive manhunt in the rocky hills of the West Bank following the bombing of a bus that killed eight Israelis near an orthodox Jewish settlement.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the bombing as part of its “continuous policy which rejects targeting civilians, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians.” Security will come only through “a political solution that ends the occupation,” the Authority said.

Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, said innocent victims are dying “on the vain altar of the ongoing occupation.”

In the week of July 4-10, as Israeli forces invaded large areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they killed ten Palestinians, including eight civilians, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) said.

The PCHR charged that Israeli forces assassinated two Palestinians July 4 by planting a bomb in their car, claiming that one was the leader of al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in Gaza. The PCHR said Israeli soldiers willfully killed three Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip July 5 and 6, including a woman and her two-year-old child.

The Israeli military’s “total siege” of the occupied territories is “a collective punishment of the Palestinian people,” the PCHR said, with thousands of workers denied access to their work places, thousands of patients denied access to medical care and thousands of students prevented from taking their exams. The group said a Palestinian patient died in early July because Israeli forces at a military checkpoint near Nablus obstructed his access to a hospital.

Gush Shalom said, “The occupation regime, which has lasted 35 years – nearly two-thirds of Israel’s total history – is the hothouse of despair and hatred, from which suicide bombers originate. The ongoing denial of basic rights to a population of three-and-a-half million drives some of the occupied population to a despicable means of responding – the random killing of Israeli civilians – which deserves all condemnation and which plays directly into the hands of Sharon and the extreme right. Despicable as they are, there can be no military means of ending the suicide bombings, no way forward by main force.”

The Israeli peace group said Israel’s ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ April offensive failed to end the suicide bombings, and the same will prove true of the “even more extensive and brutal operations” planned by the Israeli military and advocated by settlers and the extreme right. Moreover, “the ‘Separation Fence,’ recently proposed as a cure-all by some circles, will prove no real solution,” Gush Shalom said.

While the retaliatory punitive army raids manage to intercept some potential suicide bombers, the peace bloc said, “the very same raids and incursions, by demonstrating the brutality of the occupation, also increase on the Palestinian side the motivation for retribution and help the recruitment of new suicide bombers. Only an end to the occupation by political means, allowing a fair expression of the basic Palestinian aspirations, can dry up the suicide bombing phenomenon at its source and provide new hope to the desperate young Palestinians from whose ranks the bombers are recruited.”

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell faced disagreement from United Nations, European Union and Russian leaders over how to deal with the crisis. At a New York meeting of the four-nation group, which calls itself the Quartet, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Russian and European Union officials all differed with the U.S. demand that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat be replaced as a condition for resumption of peace talks.

Arafat denounced the U.S. call for his ouster, telling the Associated Press, “They [the Bush administration] have to understand that this is not Afghanistan and that they can’t change things as they want.”