- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2001

NABLUS, West Bank Palestinian supporters of Osama bin Laden clashed with police in the Gaza Strip for a second day yesterday as Yasser Arafat, embarrassed by the display, closed his borders to foreign journalists seeking to cover the violence.
Authorities barred demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza after two Palestinians died and one was mortally wounded in protests Monday that turned violent. But in at least one West Bank town, hundreds of university students defied the ban, marching outside their campus with signs criticizing Mr. Arafat's government.
In the Nusseirat refugee camp in Gaza, where authorities closed schools and universities, thousands of Palestinians overran a police station, scuffled with the men inside and set it on fire.
In other towns and villages under Mr. Arafat's control, residents found ways despite the measures to voice their admiration for bin Laden and their scorn for U.S. attacks on Afghanistan.
"Bin Laden today is the most popular figure in the West Bank and Gaza, second only to Arafat," said Husam Khader, a Palestinian lawmaker and a member of Mr. Arafat's own Fatah party.
The protests, while more contained and less violent than on Monday, posed one of the biggest challenges to Mr. Arafat's rule since he returned to Gaza in 1994 and underscored the growing rift between his administration and Palestinian Islamic groups, fueled by Washington's war against bin Laden.
They also highlighted the strength of Hamas and Islamic Jihad the two main Islamic groups in the West Bank and Gaza after more than a year of Israeli-Palestinian fighting during which Koran-clutching suicide bombers have become national heroes.
Mr. Arafat, who wants to avoid antagonizing the United States, has positioned himself squarely in Washington's camp since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
But many of his people have come to revere Saudi-born bin Laden, the main suspect in the attacks, especially after a defiant speech this week in which he was seen championing the Palestinian cause.
"Today, I wanted to carry a picture of bin Laden with me to work but I was afraid I'd be put in jail or killed," said Iyad Musmar, a 28-year-old furniture maker whose shop is situated on the edge of Nablus in the West Bank.
Mr. Musmar, a one-time Fatah supporter who has shifted allegiance to Hamas during the past year, said most of his friends support bin Laden. He said that during a political conversation with a few dozen friends at a Nablus cafe Monday night, most people were angry enough at the killing of the protesters in Gaza to defy Mr. Arafat.
But some said they feared being arrested at any pro-Afghanistan rally while others voiced concern that merely talking out loud about protest could draw the attention of undercover police.
Despite the concern, a few hundred students at Nablus' An Najah university gathered at the entrance to the campus for an anti-government march yesterday.
One sign carried by a protester denounced Mr. Arafat's administration for trampling free speech. Another placard accused government forces of "spilling Palestinian blood" in Monday's demonstration, during which policemen opened fired on a crowd of demonstrators.
While the students marched toward the center of town, Palestinian police manning roadblocks around the city prevented foreign journalists from entering Nablus until the protest ended. Other uniformed men did the same at the entrance to Gaza, where thousands marched in a funeral for two of the victims, Abdullah Ifranji and Yousef Aqel.
"What happened here yesterday was insane," said a Palestinian willing to identify himself only as Husam, who studies at the Islamic University in Gaza where Monday's protests began.
"The police officers were sitting on their knee and firing live ammunition at the people. That was crazy and reminded us of the Israelis killing the Palestinians," he said.

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