RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat expressed reservations Monday about a U.S.-backed Mideast peace plan, while a visiting U.S. senator and key supporter of Israel spoke out in favor of a Palestinian state.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) said a solution to the Mideast conflict must include a "strong and peaceful" Palestinian state. Lieberman met with Palestinian officials Monday but shunned Arafat.
Also Monday, a top Hamas fugitive, Shaman Sobih, and an accomplice were shot dead by Israeli troops in what Palestinian security officials said was a targeted killing. The two were riding a tractor when they were ambushed near the West Bank city of Jenin, the officials said. The Israeli army declined to comment.
In a separate incident, Israeli security agents arrested two Israeli Arabs in connection with a Palestinian attack that killed five people at Kibbutz Metzer in northern Israel. A government statement said the Israeli Arabs had hidden the gunman's rifle after the Nov. 10 attack.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government announced that it had approved plans to build 232 more houses in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Emmanuel and that it would invest $2.6 million in tourism projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The projects were approved even as the so-called quartet of Mideast mediators -- the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia -- pressed ahead with winning Israeli and Palestinian support for a three-phase plan that would culminate with Palestinian statehood by 2005. Among other things, the plan calls for a freeze on Jewish construction in the West Bank and Gaza.
The plan has been circulating for weeks, and over the weekend, Israel and the Palestinians were given a revised version incorporating some of their initial comments. A final plan is expected to be adopted after Israel's Jan. 28 general election.
Arafat, speaking to reporters Monday at his Ramallah headquarters, said he was studying the new proposals.
"What we have received is not a final draft, and we still have a lot of reservations," he said. "Israel itself did not accept it yet."
Lieberman deplored the "desperate human conditions" he saw during his tour of the West Bank and said Congress wants to help.
"There's strong support for the aspirations of the Palestinian people for independent statehood," he said.