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Israeli tanks pound Palestinian positions

By ALAN PHILPS in Jerusalem

Israeli tanks traded heavy fire with Palestinian machine-gunners on the West Bank on Friday following a day of clashes that left two Palestinians dead and the peace agreement in serious trouble.

An army spokesman said the tank shells were being fired at Palestinians shooting armour-piercing bullets at the military base with a heavy machine-gun.

"We are firing shells at the Palestinians who have been attacking the base with heavy machine-gun fire," the spokesman said, adding that one soldier had been slightly wounded. "They are using armour piercing bullets."

The firing came despite attempts by the Israelis to lower the tension. Officials acknowledged that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat could not stop the protests with a "magic wand".

He may meet US President Bill Clinton later this week.

While formal implementation of the truce arranged by former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres broke down, his successor, Ehud Barak, set the tone by saying that "patience and a cool head" were needed.

"We are strong enough to stand on both fronts, the battle for peace and the fight against violence and terrorism," Mr Barak said.

For its part, the Palestinian Authority banned a demonstration in Gaza by the extremist Islamic Jihad group, which claimed responsibility for a car bomb that killed two Israelis in Jerusalem on Thursday.

One of the Palestinians was killed in the latest clashes in the West Bank town of Tulkarm, the other in the village of Hizma. The Israeli army insisted it had not opened fire in Tulkarm, suggesting that the dead man was shot by his own side.

Another 37 Palestinians were injured in Bethlehem and Hebron. Two Israelis were hurt in a fire-bomb attack, and two more were injured in stone-throwing and shooting incidents.

The Israeli Security Cabinet decided on Thursday night to give the Palestinians a further 24 hours to stop violent protests. On Friday, Mr Barak's security adviser, Danny Yatom, suggested the deadline might be extended.

He said gunfire was continuing, but added: "From what I know, I assess that there is an intention to establish calm on the ground."

The Israeli army appeared less convinced of Mr Arafat's good faith, seeing his willing- ness to discuss a truce as a ploy to avert a planned retaliation for the death of three Israeli soldiers on Wednesday.

Military commentator Ze'ev Schiff, writing in Ha'aretz newspaper, said Mr Arafat was "the Middle East's most experienced leader when it comes to setting up ceasefires and then undermining them when they no longer suit him".

The Sun-Herald

-- Martin Thompson (, November 05, 2000

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