Jerusalem: Fierce battles despite truce : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Fierce battles despite truce

Jerusalem - A fragile cease-fire agreement failed to halt a spate of fierce gunbattles on Tuesday that saw two Palestinians killed and an Israeli policeman critically wounded in a Jerusalem firefight. The 20th straight day of fighting, which pushed the death toll past 100.

Shooting broke out before US President Bill Clinton announced the truce at a summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, and raged on afterward.

Israelis and Palestinians expressed extreme scepticism that the accord would take hold, and the radical Islamic group Hamas said it was not bound by the deal.

"We will continue fighting," declared Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, expressing a militancy that appeared to be shared by many Palestinians.

Israel, however, said it would wait to see if the unrest eased in the hours after the agreement was reached in Egypt by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"I hope that from Tuesday evening we will see the scope of the violence decrease," said Danny Yatom, security adviser to Barak.

An Israeli official travelling with Barak said the two sides had also reached a secret security deal, a claim denied by the Palestinians.

The CIA, which has been involved in monitoring security arrangements, would help implement the agreement, the official said on condition of anonymity. He did not give additional details.

Shortly after the truce was announced, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on the south Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo, a scene of repeated attacks. A policeman was shot in the chest and critically wounded, and several homes were raked with gunshots.

"There is a lot of shooting now. Our window was hit again," said a tearful Anna Strekma, whose house was hit in a previous shooting.

Two Israeli tanks, deployed in the neighbourhood following an earlier Palestinian attack, returned fire from mounted machine guns, and Israeli security forces quickly evacuated about 200 Jewish residents from their hilltop homes.

Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said the shooting "was the first test of the cease-fire and it was definitely a failure".

The Israeli military ordered Palestinians to evacuate their homes in nearby neighbourhoods, across a small valley, where the gunfire has originated. If the Palestinian gunmen keep shooting at Jewish neighbourhoods, "we will fire both from the tanks and from attack helicopters," Israeli Major General Yitzhak Eitan said.

Tensions were also running high in the Gaza Strip, where hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks and several firebombs at an Israeli military checkpoint in morning clashes that left 10 injured. In renewed fighting in the afternoon, a Palestinian policeman was killed by a bullet to the chest, hospital doctors said.

Before the truce was declared, Palestinian farmer Farid Nasrara (28) was killed by Jewish settlers near the West Bank town of Nablus when he was hit in the abdomen by automatic rifle fire, according to witnesses and doctors.

Palestinian witnesses said the shooting was unprovoked.

But Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, a settler spokesperson, said the farmers first attacked with knives and iron bars, and the settlers fired warning shots in the air before aiming at the Palestinians. Two settlers were arrested by Israeli police.

A third Palestinian died on Tuesday from a gunshot wound to the head two weeks ago, putting the overall death toll at 102, most of them Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Barak and Arafat were both required to make a public statement denouncing violence, but neither did so in the first few hours after they returned.

"The important thing after the talks yesterday and today is the implementation," Arafat said upon reaching the Gaza Strip. "We expect that the implementation will be exactly as we agreed upon." Barak, speaking in Sharm el-Sheik, sounded a similar note.

"The test will be in the results," he said.

The three weeks of fighting are the worst since the two sides began peace negotiations in 1993, and in the current climate of bitterness and mistrust, Palestinians and Israelis both predicted that the chances for a genuine cease-fire were slim.

"Clinton, Barak and Arafat are lying to themselves if they think they made a truce," said Daoud Mughtar, a 58-year-old Palestinian in the biblical town of Bethlehem.

"I'll believe it when I see it."

Amos Geuta, the Jewish manager of a bakery, sounded equally pessimistic. "Barak was wasting his time there. In another day or two you will see, it will get worse." - Sapa-AP .,1113,2-10-35_927351,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, October 17, 2000

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