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Two Palestinians were killed by Israel Defense Forces fire yesterday morning south of the West Bank city of Nablus, the second such incident in a 24-hour period in which four Palestinians were killed by IDF fire.

Troops apprehended the Palestinians, both 19, after settlers alerted them to the men's presence. The sergeant in charge said he fired the fatal shots after one of the men lunged at him with a glass bottle, and the other with a syringe he had found on the ground. The army will likely launch an investigation into at least one of the incidents.

The incident occurred yesterday morning when Avri Ran, a settler living in the settlement outpost of Gidonim, spotted two Palestinians passing nearby. Ran alerted the outpost security coordinator, who in turn contacted the military.

An IDF Humvee arrived carrying four soldiers from Kfir's Nachshon Battalion under the command of a sergeant. The troops apprehended the Palestinians and seized two pickaxes they were carrying (one witness said the security coordinator himself confiscated them).

The Palestinians said they had been searching for metal next to a waterway with the intention of selling it. The sergeant asked for identification, but was told they had none. Instead, the Palestinians told him their identification numbers and he radioed them in to headquarters.

The sergeant said around four minutes later, he heard one of the suspects muttering what sounded like a prayer in Arabic, and then lunged at him from behind. The soldiers present said the suspect lifted a bottle that had apparently been lying on the ground and attempted to stab the sergeant. The commander turned around and fired his rifle several times at close range, killing his assailant.

The other Palestinian then ran at the sergeant, soldiers said, and was killed himself. Troops said he brandished a syringe he had found on the ground.

A high-level GOC Central Command officer said yesterday that as far as he knows the men "were naive, not terrorists. The soldiers detained them for an examination, but didn't classify them as detainees. That's also why they didn't handcuff them. The soldiers let them drink water and the atmosphere was relaxed. We don't know exactly what happened, but it seems the Palestinian decided to attack the sergeant. As for the other one, it's unclear whether he ran out of fear or he saw his friend get hit and tried to help him attack the commander," he said.

"For every ten instances in which soldiers restrain themselves, there will be one in which they shoot," he said, noting that several weeks ago a Palestinian pounced on a group of IDF soldiers with a toy pistol, and the troops held fire despite their uncertainty over whether the weapon was real.

Yesterday the army denied reports, spread by some settlers and non-official military sources, that the soldiers had been attacked with pitchforks, affirming instead that the suspects had been carrying pickaxes that were seized before the attack.

The Palestinians were named as Mohammed Faisal Koarik and Salah Mohammed Koarik, both 19-year-old residents of the Nablus-area village of Awarta. The head of the village local council, Hassan Awad, said both men had been working their families' agricultural land near the village and had no intention of attacking soldiers.

Samaria Brigade commander Col. Itzik Bar conducted a preliminary investigation into the incident yesterday.

Meanwhile, the brigade continues to probe the earlier clash, which also involved troops from Nachshon, in which two Palestinians youths were killed.

Sixteen-year-old Mohammed Kadus of the village of Iraq Burin was killed Saturday after sustaining a torso injury from IDF fire. Yesterday morning, Oseyd Abd al-Nasser Kadus, 17, died after receiving a head wound in the same incident.

The IDF maintains its soldiers fired rubber-coated bullets to disperse rioters, while the human rights group B'Tselem said troops fired live bullets. X-ray images the military acquired from Rafidia Surgery Hospital in Nablus showed that the bullet had penetrated the man's skull. Troops maintained that they had fired from a distance of 70 meters, but the wounds shown in the images make it unlikely they were caused by rubber bullets, a conclusion also reached by Israeli forensics experts.

Yesterday IDF and Palestinian security forces representatives conducted a joint medical investigation to determine the causes of death of the two teenagers in Iraq Burin. Should they conclude that live fire was used, the Military Police's investigative unit will likely launch its own probe.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, accused Israel of responding to U.S. and international efforts to revive peace talks "with more escalation," and of thwarting attempts to restart negotiations.