Gun Violence Rages in Mideast : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Gun Violence Rages in Mideast By Greg Myre Associated Press Writer Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2000; 7:48 p.m. EDT

JERUSALEM  Palestinian gunmen battled Israeli soldiers Tuesday at isolated army posts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that have degenerated into virtual free-fire zones, as both sides defied a cease-fire call on the eve of a U.S. attempt to salvage peacemaking.

Tuesday's death toll of five was the lowest since the fighting began last week. In addition, 206 people were injured, according to the Palestinians. Overall, 56 people have died and at least 1,300 have been wounded, the vast majority Palestinian.

"The results have been very painful," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said, adding that he had called on Israel's security forces "to make a supreme effort to prevent further casualties."

Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat head to Paris on Wednesday in hopes that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright can help end the fighting and revive peace talks. The two also have agreed to meet in Egypt with President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday.

Barak, meanwhile, was battling for political survival at home, trying to appease Arab legislators who are threatening to topple his government over the harsh crackdown on rioters in Israel's Arab towns. The internal rebellion, the worst since Israel's founding 52 years ago, has blocked highways and closed schools, paralyzing large parts of northern Israel.

With the Israelis blasting away with heavy weapons, such as rockets launched from helicopters, and with the Palestinians routinely firing automatic rifles, the intensity of the fighting sometimes resembles a war and has surpassed levels seen during the 1987-93 Palestinian uprising and three days of firefights in 1996.

"I have been dealing with such riots since 1987 and ... there has never been anything on this level  not when it comes to clashes and certainly not when it comes to the use of weapons," said Yisrael Yitzhak, commander of Israel's paramilitary border police in the West Bank.

The heaviest clashes Tuesday were again in the chaotic West Bank and Gaza Strip, where a hastily arranged cease-fire quickly unraveled at a pair of chronic trouble spots.

Palestinian television broadcast an appeal in Hebrew to Israeli soldiers not to open fire, and a senior Palestinian official said an international inquiry into Israel's actions would be a condition of reviving the peace talks.

"We think that the Israeli crimes committed against our people attacked the heart of the peace process," said Nabil Abourdeneh, a top aide to Arafat. But Barak's office said he "totally rejected the call for an international investigation."

At one point late Tuesday, the Paris talks were almost called off, after Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath reportedly said Arafat had no intention of meeting with Barak in Paris. Barak informed the Americans that in this case, he would not go to Paris, the prime minister's office said.

The prime minister only relented after he was informed by U.S. mediators that Arafat was ready to see Barak, the statement said. Arafat spokesman Nabil Abourdeneh has said that for now the Palestinian leader only planned to meet separately with Albright, but that a three-way session  Arafat-Barak-Albright  was possible.

Israeli troops, backed by a helicopter gunship, traded gunfire with Palestinians at an army outpost near the remote Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip, part of an on-and-off battle that's been running for days.

Palestinian rock throwers dropped face-down in the streets, seeking cover amid sustained blasts of automatic rifle fire. Shortly afterward, wailing ambulances arrived to take away the casualties.

One man's head was mutilated by an Israeli rocket, and his fellow Palestinians picked up parts of his brain and waved their bloodstained hands in the air.

In the West Bank town of Nablus, besieged Israeli forces also called in helicopter fire to drive back Palestinians shooting on the tiny Israeli enclave of Joseph's Tomb.

After an emotional funeral for a 15-year-old Palestinian boy, Palestinians headed directly to the Israeli outpost. Several gunmen dashed to the edge of the compound and raised their rifles to shoot over the stone wall surrounding the tomb.

Youths relied on black smoke from burning tires to provide cover as they darted toward the wall and hurled firebombs toward the tomb, believed by some to hold the remains of the biblical patriarch.

Elsewhere, stone-throwing youths confronted Israeli soldiers in cities and towns throughout the Palestinian areas. The main streets in Bethlehem and Hebron were carpeted with thousands of rocks. The Israelis responded with rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades in most instances.

Palestinian television broadcast an appeal in Hebrew to Israeli soldiers not to open fire, and a senior Palestinian official said an international inquiry into Israel's actions would be a condition of reviving the peace talks.

"We think that the Israeli crimes committed against our people attacked the heart of the peace process," said Nabil Abourdeneh, a top aide to Arafat. But Barak's office said he "totally rejected the call for an international investigation."

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said a 12-year-old boy killed at Netzarim on Saturday was apparently hit by Israeli gunfire. The death, caught on camera, shocked viewers around the world. Israel's Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Moshe Yaalon expressed "deep sorrow" and said a sniper had apparently mistaken the child for a gunman.

The violence began Thursday after Ariel Sharon, leader of the hard-line opposition Likud party, visited a Jerusalem site holy to Muslims and Jews. Sharon insisted he bore no responsibility, laying the blame on Arafat.

Israeli and Palestinian commanders reached an understanding before dawn Tuesday that the Palestinians would try to contain violence and Israeli troops would pull back from points of friction.

But on the street, angry Palestinian protesters said they hadn't heard, or didn't care, about the agreement.

"The cease-fire does not mean anything to us," said Anwar Takakh, joining stone-throwers in Bethlehem. "It is between Arafat and Barak."

Barak turned his attention to the violence among Israeli Arabs, who account for 1 million of Israel's 6 million people. The prime minister met with Arab mayors and set up a committee to address Arab needs.

Without the backing of 10 Arab lawmakers in parliament, Barak's government could collapse, leading to new elections.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 03, 2000


Wednesday, October 04, 20000 -- Rajab-al-Murajab 05,1420 A.H

Devastating scenes in Arab, Israeli towns

UMM EL-FAHM, Israel: Thick columns of black smoke billowed over the northern Israeli town of Umm el-Fahm Monday, while the acrid smell of burning tyres lay heavy in the air, silent but eloquent testimony to a day of mayhem between Arab demonstrators and Israeli police.

Israeli security forces turned back private vehicles, preventing them from using the main road in the area linking the towns and villages where Israel's Arabs are most densely concentrated. "If you pass, it's at your own risk," a traffic policeman warned a journalist who insisted on ignoring the ban. Once past the police checkpoint, the scene is one of smashed phone boxes and burned out cars, and the surface of the road is strewn with pieces of glass bearing witness to the violence of the clashes. Israeli helicopters circle overhead.

But further up towards town, the people of Umm el-Fahm, many of them sporting the beards have taken over from the Israeli security forces and direct the sparse traffic up into the hills where the townspeople gathered for an unrivalled view down onto the clashes below.

Groups of women and children have taken up position in an area between two half-built houses, from where they could watch what was going on in town. Now that the clashes are over, they are joined by mainly young men, flooding up from the theatre of operations, many of them waving black or green flags, some emblazoned with the Muslim profession of faith.

Others carry portraints of Mohammed Ahmed Mahmud, a demonstrator who died earlier in the day of his injuries, and whose funeral the whole town is preparing to attend. Indeed, some people have come from nearby towns and villages to do him honour, like three young men calmly eating the picnic they have brought with them. "Where is the Israeli army?" grins one of them. "The clashes are over and they've gone to hide and have closed the road." A number of cars drive by, crammed with passengers returning from the battlefield, who make the V sign for victory as they go past.

Further down, a procession bristling with green and black Islamic flags and led by an old man with a beard and wearing a the typical Palestinian checkered keffiyeh on his head weaves its way round the streets, the demonstrators chanting the ritual slogan for martyrs: With our blood, with our soul, we shall sacrifice ourselves for you." But for all the air of triumph, closer to the epicentre of the violence the mood is more tense. Some of the men there are masked. Older men oversee the process as youths receive treatment for their injuries, while others help their wounded comrades along to be bandaged up. The road is still littered with debris and uprooted pylons, while the cars that have been overturned and set on fire earlier continue to smoulder. The call to prayer echoes out over the town as the crowd assembles to bury the dead. In all, eight Israeli Arabs lost their lives Monday after battling the security forces.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 03, 2000.

This could well develop into that October Surprise we've all been expecting.

-- JackW (, October 03, 2000.

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