The killings of four Israelis on Monday was part of a new ``death on the roads'' terror campaign by Palestinian militants, Israel said. Palestinian leaders harshly condemned the army cordon around the territories they control.
It came as Prime Minister Ehud Barak headed home from a U.S. trip that produced no peace breakthroughs, and as Israelis and Palestinians braced for potentially widespread confrontations Wednesday - the 12th anniversary of a symbolic declaration of Palestinian independence.
``The (Palestinian) state will be fundamental to peace in the Middle East,'' Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat declared upon his return to Gaza Tuesday from an Islamic summit in Qatar.
Arafat, who was in exile when he first declared Palestinian independence on Nov. 15, 1988, has repeatedly promised that statehood would arrive this year. Some Palestinians have called for a unilateral declaration Wednesday.
But with the peace process derailed by violence, no such move is planned, Palestinian leaders said. Israel, meanwhile, has warned that it would respond harshly to any one-sided action by the Palestinians.
``There will be no decision on the Palestinian state in the coming few days,'' said Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian information minister.
In Tuesday's violence, three teen-agers, aged 13-19, were shot dead by Israeli troops in the West Bank and Gaza, hospital doctors said.
In a fourth case, Palestinians said a 50-year-old man died after settlers threw rocks at his car. A passenger in the car said the man was hit in the chest by a huge rock. Israeli police said no complaint had been filed, and so they had not begun an investigation.
The number of young Palestinians taking part in stone-throwing clashes each afternoon has been declining. However, Palestinian ambushes along isolated roads have been on the rise. A pair of Israeli vehicles were raked with gunfire Monday, leaving two soldiers and two civilians dead, and eight wounded.
It was the highest one-day death toll for Israelis since the conflict broke out at the end of September.
The army's intensified blockade, which prevents travel from one Palestinian community to another on the West Bank, keeps Palestinians off the roads used by the 200,000 Israeli settlers. It also prevents any semblance of normal activity in Palestinian areas. Many Palestinians are kept from their jobs, and conducting business and moving goods is virtually impossible.
The latest blockade is an addition to existing measures that prevent Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from traveling to Israel proper. Some 120,000 Palestinians work in Israel and account for a large chunk of the Palestinian economy, but they've been unable to reach their jobs since a closure was imposed more than a month ago.
Meanwhile, Barak canceled a London meeting Tuesday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and headed home for an emergency meeting of his security Cabinet. Wednesday morning's scheduled meeting will weigh responses to Monday's killings of the Israelis.
No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for Monday's shooting ambushes. However, Israeli Cabinet Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the acting prime minister during Barak's absence, said the gunmen apparently were supporters of the militant Islamic Jihad group. He alleged the attacks were carried out with the knowledge and support of Arafat.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, said they would attempt to keep Israeli civilians and troops out of West Bank villages, starting Wednesday.
Such a step would be a direct challenge to Israel, since previous peace accords grant Israel security control over the West Bank villages.
``Israeli violence will be met by Palestinian violence,'' said Hussein al Sheik, an official in Arafat's Fatah movement. ``The Palestinian people will not raise the white flag and will continue this intefadeh until full independence.''