- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

JERUSALEM Israel imposed a stringent blockade around Palestinian communities yesterday in response to the deadly drive-by shootings of Israelis, paralyzing normal life but failing to halt violence. At least three Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The killings of four Israelis on Monday was part of a new "death on the roads" terror campaign by Palestinian militants, Israel said. Palestinian leaders harshly condemned the army cordon around the territories they control.

It came as Prime Minister Ehud Barak headed home from a U.S. trip that produced no peace breakthroughs, and as Israelis and Palestinians braced for potentially widespread confrontations today the 12th anniversary of a symbolic declaration of Palestinian independence.

"The [Palestinian] state will be fundamental to peace in the Middle East," Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat declared upon his return to Gaza yesterday from an Islamic summit in Qatar.

Mr. Arafat, who was in exile when he first declared Palestinian independence on Nov. 15, 1988, has repeatedly promised that statehood would arrive this year. Some Palestinians have called for a unilateral declaration today.

But with the peace process derailed by violence, no such move is planned, Palestinian leaders said. Israel, meanwhile, has warned that it would respond harshly to any one-sided action by the Palestinians.

"There will be no decision on the Palestinian state in the coming few days," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian information minister.

In yesterday's violence, three teen-agers were fatally shot by Israeli troops in the West Bank and Gaza, hospital doctors said. Israel, however, denied that its soldiers had killed the two youths in Gaza, calling reports of the incident part of the "campaign of Palestinian lies that have inflamed the territories."

In a fourth case, Palestinians said a 50-year-old man died after settlers threw rocks at his car. A passenger in the car said the man was hit in the chest by a huge rock. Israeli police said no complaint had been filed, so they had not begun an investigation.

After seven weeks of fighting and more than 200 dead, mostly Palestinians, the conflict appeared to be taking on a new dimension focused on the roads of the West Bank. There, Israeli settlements are scattered outside much larger Palestinian cities and towns.

The number of young Palestinians taking part in stone-throwing clashes each afternoon has been declining. However, Palestinian ambushes along isolated roads have been on the rise. A pair of Israeli vehicles were raked with gunfire Monday, leaving two soldiers and two civilians dead, and eight wounded.

It was the highest one-day death toll for Israelis since the conflict erupted at the end of September.

The army's intensified blockade, which prevents travel from one Palestinian community to another on the West Bank, keeps Palestinians off the roads used by the 200,000 Israeli settlers. It also prevents any semblance of normal activity in Palestinian areas. Many Palestinians are kept from their jobs, and conducting business and moving goods is almost impossible.

The latest blockade is an addition to existing measures that prevent Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from traveling to Israel proper. Some 120,000 Palestinians work in Israel and account for a large chunk of the Palestinian economy, but they have been unable to reach their jobs since a closure was imposed more than a month ago.

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