JERUSALEM -- Palestinian attackers killed three Israelis and wounded two others early today after infiltrating a Jewish settlement in Gaza, Israeli officials said.
The militants opened fire after sneaking into the Netzarim settlement, the officials said. Israel Radio said that they crossed the exterior fence but did not enter the settlement itself.
The attack came only hours after Israel disclosed plans to expand settlements on the West Bank, despite a freeze on construction required by a US-backed peace plan. Palestinians condemned the project to build nearly 300 homes on land they hope will one day become part of their nation. They urged the United States to intervene.
In Gaza, two Palestinians carried out the settlement attack and heavy fog aided the infiltrators and hampered soldiers searching for them, Israel Radio reported. Israeli officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they didn't know whether the infiltrators were killed or escaped. The victims' identities weren't immediately available.
Netzarim is an isolated Israeli settlement southwest of Gaza City. It is heavily guarded by Israeli soldiers. In the past, it has been the target of many infiltration attempts by Palestinian militants.
About 7,000 Israelis live in Jewish settlements in Gaza, amid about 1 million Palestinians.
In another attack in Gaza, three Israelis were wounded and the Palestinian gunman was killed last night, according to settlers and rescue services. The militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for that attack.
The news of the construction of apartments in West Bank settlements was disclosed in a newspaper ad that invited contractors to bid on them. The apartments are slated for Karnei Shomron, a settlement deep in the northern West Bank, and Givat Zeev, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. "The Housing Ministry builds all over Israel, including the West Bank," said ministry spokesman Kobi Bleich. "This tender is in line with a decision taken by the government of Israel."
The US-backed "road map" plan requires a freeze on construction in the roughly 150 Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinians hope to establish an independent state in the two territories, which Israel captured during the 1967 Middle East war.
The Palestinians also have not implemented their obligations -- mainly that they disarm and dismantle militant groups -- and the plan is stalled, with each side blaming the other, violence continuing, and contact almost entirely cut off.
Asked about the new settlement activity, US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said in Washington, "We have made our policy clear, which is that, under the road map, Israel has made a commitment to stop settlement activity. Sticking to that commitment is important."
An associate of Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, said the Palestinian leader was unnerved by an army raid near his compound this week, and clenched a submachine gun as he declared he felt the "smell of paradise."
Israel has said it would "remove" Arafat at an unspecified time. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said this week that Arafat is the major obstacle to peace, but in an earlier newspaper interview backtracked from threats to expel the Palestinian leader.
Arafat, who has been confined to his compound in the West Bank town for nearly two years, feared Israeli troops might come after him, the aide said.