Saturday, 9 December 2000

Ten die in Mideast clashes

Saturday, December 9, 2000

By Matthew Kalman

HEBRON, WEST BANK -- One of the bloodiest days in more than two months of violence erupted yesterday, leaving seven Palestinians and three Israelis dead.
Israel blockaded all West Bank cities last night, after a "day of rage" in which some Palestinians daubed their anger in blood on walls inside Jerusalem's Old City.

"The entry and exit [of Palestinians] from Area A, with the exception of humanitarian cases, will be prohibited," an army statement said, referring to territory under Palestinian control in the West Bank.

The killings yesterday took the recent death toll to more than 300, including 36 Israeli soldiers and civilians. The violence occurred as Palestinian activists marked the Dec. 8, 1987, start of the six-year intifada (uprising) that ended only once the Oslo peace accords had been signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

"The uprising is a strategic choice of the Palestinian people, and it can't be stopped. There will be an escalation in the coming days," said Marwan Barghouti, head of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank.

The battles took place after Palestinians poured out of mosques following Ramadan prayers. In the deadliest incident, four Palestinian policemen and a civilian were killed in the West Bank town of Jenin when an Israeli tank fired shells at a Palestinian police post. The army said the shells were fired at four suspicious figures whom soldiers spotted in the distance.

Outside the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, scores of Palestinians threw rocks; Israeli police fired rubber-coated steel pellets, tear gas and stun grenades.

A Palestinian was killed and six injured. Several Israeli police officers were also hurt. The confrontation spilled over into the Via Dolorosa, the biblical path followed by Christ to his crucifixion.

A pool of blood was left after Samir Ammar Mashni, 16, was shot dead. Palestinian youths dipped their hands in his blood, held them aloft in a show of defiance and then made handprints on the stone walls lining the alley.

Earlier, Palestinians sprayed an Israeli van with gunfire, killing a schoolteacher and a driver, and wounding another passenger. The van was on a bypass road used by settlers travelling around the West Bank city of Hebron, near the entrance to the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba.

Rina Didovsky, 39, who had six children, had been on her way to school in Kiryat Arba. The driver of the van, who was was critically wounded, died later. The gunmen fled into a nearby village controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

On a settler bypass road near the town of Jericho, Palestinians fired on an Israeli bus, killing one passenger and wounding another.

"The cowardly attack on civilians will not break our spirit and our determined struggle against violence and terrorism," said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. "As we have proven in the past, heinous murderers will not escape without punishment."

The attacks were the latest in a series of deadly shootings and bombings against Israeli civilians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

Two weeks ago, two teachers were killed and several children seriously wounded when the bus they were taking to school was bombed in Gaza. Two sisters and a brother lost parts of their legs.

A soldier, who had been escorting a civilian car through the West Bank, underwent an emergency operation Thursday after he was shot in another drive-by attack. A woman and a civilian were wounded.

Leaders of the 190,000 Israelis living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip say such attacks have become daily events, but are noticed only when someone is killed.

Many are calling on the Israeli army to ban Palestinians from travelling in private cars in the area. Zvi Katsover, mayor of Kiryat Arba, called on the Israeli government to order soldiers to pursue attackers into Palestinian-controlled territory.

"It's a wonder that there aren't worse attacks," he told Israel Radio. "The attackers take no risks. No one deters them, no one stops them, no one catches them."

Many Palestinian leaders, including Mr. Arafat, have encouraged attacks against settlers, saying they are legitimate targets for the gunmen.

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