- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2000

JERUSALEM Israelis and Palestinians waged gun battles in the West Bank and Gaza Strip without regard for a negotiated cease-fire yesterday, adding five more Arabs to the death toll from the region's worst confrontation in four years.
A tenuous truce in the early hours lasted only until midday, when Palestinian protesters took to the streets for the fifth consecutive day.
The violence was heaviest at Joseph's Tomb in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank town of Nablus, where a few dozen Jewish seminary students have settled in a heavily guarded religious shrine.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces used attack helicopters to fight hundreds of Palestinians near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, killing three protesters.
The army barred Jewish settlers across the West Bank and Gaza from driving to their communities except in armored convoys.
The renewed violence and the death yesterday of a Palestinian wounded on Saturday brought the death toll to 56. At least 1,300 have been wounded.
The new clashes came as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak headed to Paris for a three-way meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright in an attempt to revive moribund peace efforts.
Armed Israeli soldiers have faced both Palestinian stone-throwers and gun-toting Palestinian police in the clashes, touched off Thursday by the visit of right-wing Israeli lawmaker Ariel Sharon to a Jerusalem shrine holy to Jews and Arabs.
As the skirmishes spread, officials traded barbs over who is to blame for the fighting.
"The violence only occurs when they approach us," Giora Eiland, chief of Israeli army operations, said in Tel Aviv at a press conference called after the cease-fire broke down.
"We try to exercise restraint when it comes to using our weapons and we only use live ammunition when necessary," he said.
Mr. Eiland said Mr. Arafat was allowing an armed faction of his Fatah group, known as Tanzim, free rein to engage Israeli troops.
But top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel was the aggressor and ridiculed the term "cease-fire."
"It's absolutely unacceptable to call it a cease-fire. It's not a war between two sides. It's one side, Israel, that's shooting at Palestinians, firing missiles at Palestinians, wounding Palestinians," he said.
In pockets across the West Bank and Gaza, plumes of black smoke billowed above the clashes, the noxious result of burning tires and Israeli-fired tear gas.
Seven years of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking have been punctuated by occasional bursts of violence, including a 1996 flare-up in which scores of Palestinians and Israelis were killed. Then, Israel opened a tunnel near the same Jerusalem shrine, which triggered the present crisis. The site, sacred to both Muslims and Jews, is known as the Temple Mount to Israelis and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims.
What has made this round extraordinary is the ferocity of the clashes, the unprecedented measures Israel has used to quell the riots including helicopter gunships and shoulder-fired rockets and the spread of clashes to Arab towns inside Israel proper.
The level of violence in Um el-Fahm and other Arab-Israeli towns dropped since the weekend and only sporadic stone-throwing incidents occurred yesterday, but tension still ran high in Israeli-Arab communities. Eight Israeli-Arabs have been killed since the protests erupted.
Mr. Barak appeared to be more concerned about the violence inside Israel, where the Israeli-Arab minority has long complained of discrimination at the hands of the Jewish state.
Mr. Barak issued a statement early yesterday saying more money might be allocated to the neglected communities.
In the mixed Arab-Israeli town of Acre, where several Arabs were wounded Monday after a peaceful rally turned violent, protesters said they wanted to show their solidarity with Palestinians brethren in the West Bank and Gaza.
"Everyone wanted to express their anger about the killings. But why did the police shoot?" asked a 40-year-old Acre woman who gave her name as Annisa.
Police in Acre and other Israeli towns have said they intervened only when protesters blocked roads or threw stones.
Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat are also due to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak tomorrow in a further attempt to salvage a peace process that has sputtered since talks broke down at Camp David in July.
The two sides are still far apart over the fate of the Temple Mount, though they made significant progress at Camp David on multiple issues.

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