New Violence Erupts in Mideast
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Marching from mosques to Israeli checkpoints, hundreds of Palestinians hurled stones and firebombs at soldiers from behind makeshift barricades of smoldering car wrecks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Friday. A 14-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by Israeli return fire, doctors said.
In the West Bank town of Anabta, an Israeli army truck came under Palestinian fire and four soldiers were injured. The army said the driver had made a wrong turn and mistakenly entered the town, which is under full Palestinian control.
The new violence came with a key deadline looming, when both sides were to assess whether a U.S.-brokered cease-fire was holding. Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami said the transition period was to expire at 4 p.m. Friday, setting a clear deadline for the first time.
He told CNN that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has given instructions to stop violence, ``but we do not yet see that this percolates throughout the Palestinian system.″
In the West Bank town of Ramallah, scores of Palestinians threw stones from behind makeshift barricades of burned-out cars. Groups of rioters overturned the wrecks again and again, using them as cover to approach the Israeli positions. Thick smoke from burning cars rose into the air, and at one point a Palestinian policeman tried to douse the flames with a hose.
During a lull, a young rioter crouched behind one of the wrecks to adjust his green headband, which signals support for the Islamic militant group Hamas.
In the West Bank town of Hebron, demonstrators carried a mock coffin with the words ``Sharm el-Sheik″ written on it, referring to the Egyptian resort where Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to the truce. ``We don’t care about the deadline,″ said Teissir Natche, 17, one of the stone-throwers. ``We just want a Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital.″
In the West Bank town of Salfit, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by Israeli fire, doctors at a nearby clinic said. Palestinian security officials confirmed the death, which brought to 105 the number of people killed in three weeks of clashes. The vast majority of those killed were Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has said if the Palestinians do not stop the riots, he will see it as a decision by Arafat to halt peace negotiations.
In a phone call late Thursday, Barak told President Clinton that in that case, Israel will have to ``take a time-out and reassess the entire peace process,″ said Barak aide Gilead Sher.
Palestinians charged that Israel is not keeping the understandings and demanded it withdraw tanks from the outskirts of West Bank cities.
Preventing access to Muslims under the age of 40, Israeli riot police blocked several alleyways leading to the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, where the rioting started Sept. 28 after a hard-line Israeli politician visited the site, which is also holy to Jews.
Just inside the walled Old City’s Damascus Gate, police swung clubs to keep back a large crowd of worshippers. One policeman charged toward a Palestinian in a white robe and prayer cap who tried to shield himself from a blow.
On Thursday, Palestinians fired at a group of Jewish settlers who were hiking on a mountain overlooking Nablus. The settlers said they wanted to look from afar at Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish holy site abandoned by Israeli forces during the rioting and then ransacked by Palestinians.
The Israelis said the Palestinian gunfire was unprovoked. Ala Hamed, 23, a Palestinian who lives across from the hill, said the clash began when settlers appeared nearby and a Palestinian gunman confronted them. He said settlers shot and killed the gunman.
Palestinian fire pinned the hikers down for five hours, though Israeli soldiers and attack helicopters returned the fire. Rabbi Binyamin Erling, 64, bled to death from his wounds, and a Palestinian was killed. Three Israelis and 15 Palestinians were wounded in the gunfire.
Hundreds attended Erling’s funeral in the settlement of Kedoumim. Rabbi Haim Druckman, a leader of the settlers, tearfully eulogized Erling and called for Israel’s leaders to end peace talks with the Palestinians. ``What else needs to happen before they open their eyes?″ he said.
Barak called the Palestinian gunfire at the settlers a ``flagrant violation″ of the understandings reached at Sharm el-Sheik.
The Palestinian Cabinet blamed Israel for the continuing violence. After meeting in Gaza late Thursday, the Cabinet said Israel was not stopping settlers from firing at civilians.