- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2000

JERUSALEM Three Israeli soldiers and six Palestinians died yesterday in fierce gunbattles throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a day that Israelis said had turned a civilian uprising into a war.

"This isn't an intifada. This is a war," said an Israeli captain as he fired tracer bullets that cut red streaks in the night sky during one battle north of Jerusalem.

In Washington, acting Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami echoed those sentiments following a meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

"It is a war in many senses," he said. "We need to address this issue not as a civilian uprising but as a military confrontation."

However, early today, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed on measures to end a wave of violence that has swept the Middle East in the last five weeks.

Mr. Barak's office said in a statement that a two hour-meeting between Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres had yielded an agreement to implement a U.S.-brokered cease-fire, forged in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik last month.

"An understanding was reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on a series of steps on the basis of the Sharm understanding that are due to lead to the renewal of security cooperation and a halt to the violence and incitement," Mr. Barak's office said in the statement.

Clashes erupted yesterday in Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah, Hebron, Gilo and the Gaza Strip, and in several areas Israeli tanks fired shells at Palestinian positions.

The fighting had prompted Mr. Barak to issue a stern warning to Mr. Arafat.

"We will act in exactly the necessary way, the manner and measure in order to serve the needs of the state of Israel," Mr. Barak said in a statement.

He also convened his security Cabinet to discuss measures for dealing with the escalation.

"This is a new stage in the fighting. The Palestinians are using guns every day, in almost every confrontation. It's a very bad development," said one top army officer who declined to be named.

Other officials pressed Mr. Barak at the Cabinet meeting to order more aggressive action against Palestinians.

At the very least, army helicopters had been expected to bomb Palestinian targets overnight in retaliation for Palestinian attacks.

But the new statement said the understanding had brought about a freeze in the retaliatory steps determined overnight by Israel's security Cabinet.

The worst clashes of the day took place near Bethlehem, where Palestinian gunmen attacked an Israeli position with burst after burst of automatic gunfire. Soldiers wounded in the initial assault lay bleeding for nearly an hour while other troops shot back and radioed for help.

Israeli tanks rolled in under fire to evacuate the wounded in scenes reminiscent of Israel's battles in Lebanon against Islamic guerrillas. Two Israeli soldiers died in the fighting.

The confrontations, which erupted Sept. 28 after a visit by opposition leader Ariel Sharon to a sensitive Jerusalem shrine, had initially resembled the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, of the late 1980s and early 1990s huge demonstrations of Palestinian stone throwers, joined by occasional gunmen.

But Israeli officials say soldiers are now facing armed Palestinians in most confrontations. During one exchange this week, Palestinians fired an anti-tank missile for the first time since the fighting broke out.

Israelis also suspect Palestinians are in possession of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft rockets.

"The fact is that the incitement continues and the encouragement of violence and the failure to act can lead to tough results which the Palestinians will be to blame for," Mr. Barak said in a statement released late yesterday.

Shortly afterward, an Israeli army spokeswoman said Israeli helicopters rocketed a Palestinian Authority building near the West Bank town of Jericho after Palestinian gunmen opened fire, killing one Israeli soldier.

Witnesses in Jericho identified the building as a training center for Palestinian security forces. They said it erupted in a ball of fire after the rockets slammed into it, though no one was wounded.

Before yesterday, the only other Israeli combat death was a soldier who died during a Palestinian siege of a Jewish holy site in Nablus on Oct. 1. There, a wounded paramilitary border policeman bled to death before he could be removed. Israel later evacuated the site.

Two Israeli reserve soldiers were brutally killed by an enraged Palestinian mob Oct. 12, after the soldiers took a wrong turn and entered the West Bank city of Ramallah.

In the Gaza Strip yesterday, tens of thousands of mourners attended the funerals of four Palestinians killed in violence and shouted for revenge, as the bodies of the men draped with Palestinian flags were carried aloft to the cemetery.

Three more Palestinians died in fighting that erupted after the funeral.

Palestinian gunmen also attacked the Gilo neighborhood on the southern edge of Jerusalem from positions in the adjacent West Bank town of Beit Jalla. The gunmen hit several homes and a kindergarten, with one youngster and several adults still inside. There were no reports of injuries.

Yesterday's casualties brought the death toll to at least 160, mostly Palestinians.

By comparison, in the first month of the Palestinian uprising that flared in 1987, Israeli troops fatally shot 28 Palestinians.

Despite the fighting, Mr. Barak permitted fellow Cabinet minister Shimon Peres to meet with Mr. Arafat, the highest-level meeting the two sides have had since an emergency U.S.-brokered summit in Egypt on Oct. 17.

After the three-hour meeting, Mr. Peres left without comment.

Mr. Peres, an architect of Israel's first interim peace accords with Mr. Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993, had said he wanted to hear Mr. Arafat's view of the situation after Mr. Barak dropped his objections to their meeting.

Each side in the conflict accuses the other of failing to honor understandings reached in Egypt to end the clashes and return to the peace table.

Earlier in Gaza City, Mr. Arafat held talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and called for a German and European initiative to keep peace efforts alive.

The Palestinians have been pushing for a bigger European role in Middle East peacemaking, accusing the United States the main mediator of being biased toward Israel.

The Israeli military has predicted the fighting could go on for months and could escalate, and a senior military official said Israel was calling up its army reserves.

About 1,000 reservists have been activated already, and by the beginning of December, all the reserve forces will be called up to serve stints in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the official, who insisted on anonymity, told the Associated Press.

Palestinian envoy Saeb Erekat was to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Mrs. Albright tomorrow.

Mr. Erekat said he was carrying letters from Mr. Arafat to Mr. Annan and President Clinton with a request that the United Nations send a force to protect Palestinian civilians, and for the establishment of an international inquiry into the causes of the violence.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richard C. Holbrooke, has criticized the Palestinian demand for U.N. protection, saying it was "written as an attack on one side," meaning Israel.

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