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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Palestinian Gunmen Kill 2 in Attack

BEERSHEBA, Israel — Two Palestinian gunmen killed two people when they sprayed gunfire at a cafe near an army base in southern Israel on Sunday before they were shot dead by soldiers, Israeli police and witnesses said.

The attack in Beersheba, in which up to 18 people were wounded, happened just ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's return to Israel from the United States and was the latest violence in a 16-month-old Palestinian uprising against occupation.

The gunmen sprang from a car and started shooting with automatic weapons near the gates of the army's southern command headquarters in the center of the city, police said.

Many soldiers were on the streets during their lunch break Sunday afternoon, and quickly began firing back at the attackers, who were shot dead within minutes, witnesses and officials said.

Sharon was to arrive Sunday after obtaining a U.S. pledge to pressure Yasser Arafat on militants, but failing to get Washington's agreement to cut ties with the Palestinian leader.

Israeli officials blamed Arafat for the fresh attack, for which there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

"I was on the street and suddenly the two got out of a car and started firing in all directions," Israeli army Captain Guy Shaham told Israel Radio. "They were spraying from the hip in all directions."

"I whipped out my gun and started firing back at them," Shaham said, adding that he felled one of the attackers. The second ran toward a shopping center, but soldiers chased him down and killed him as well, Shaham said.

Israel TV said the area had been closed off and a search was on for a third Palestinian who may have been involved in the attack, disguised in the uniform of an Israeli soldier. But Shaham said he was sure there were only two attackers.

Television reports also stated that one of the dead assailants was believed to have explosives strapped to his body and was killed before he had a chance to detonate them. The reports said the army was trying to defuse the bomb. There was no confirmation of this report.

Palestinian militants have carried out scores of attacks in the 16 months of Mideast fighting. The desert city of Beersheba has been comparatively calm, but it is relatively close to both the West Bank and Gaza.

Sunday's attack underscored the vulnerability of such Israeli cities in the current situation: the main Palestinian cities are blockaded by the army, but there is little serious policing of the Israel-West Bank border itself, which snakes through hundreds of kilometers of hills, plains, woods and desert.

"We do not know how to hermetically seal the borders of Israel," said Israeli police chief Shlomo Aharonishki, asked whether such attacks can be prevented.

Earlier Sunday, Israeli troops briefly entered the West Bank city of Nablus and exchanged heavy fire with Palestinians. The incursion came hours after a Saturday night roadside shooting by a Palestinian killed a 79-year-old Israeli woman and injured her son.

The soldiers in tanks and armored personnel carriers moved into Nablus around 4 a.m. and gunbattles soon erupted. Seven Palestinians were wounded, two seriously, Palestinian hospital officials said. An Israeli attack helicopter circled overhead but did not open fire during the Israeli incursion, which lasted about two hours.

The Israeli military said its forces searched buildings, arresting several Palestinians, and left before daybreak.