- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2000

JERUSALEM What started out as a funeral procession for an American rabbi killed by Palestinians in the West Bank ended in a gunbattle between Israeli and Palestinian troops yesterday as violence erupted anew despite international efforts to halt Middle East bloodletting.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in the region since Sunday, postponed a trip to Lebanon and again tried to get Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to agree to a summit where a cease-fire could be discussed.

The two sides appeared to move closer to an understanding on the type of fact-finding mission that would investigate the clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian police and civilians, only to be stymied by more violence and the specter of suicide bombings.

By the end of the day, two more Palestinians had died in the fighting that erupted two weeks ago, raising the death toll to 92. All but five of those killed were Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

Israelis and Palestinians blame each other for the violence, which has all but erased seven years of peacemaking and has poisoned relations between Jews and Arabs inside Israel.

The aggression has also prompted Mr. Barak to try to expand his coalition with the addition of right-wing parties in a move that could further jeopardize peace prospects.

Tension in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which had eased slightly Tuesday, shot up during the funeral procession near the West Bank town of Nablus of Hillel Lieberman, an American-born Israeli settler described as a distant relative of Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joseph I. Lieberman.

Rock throwing by Palestinians and Israelis disrupted the procession each side says the other started it followed by an exchange of gunfire by Israeli and Palestinian troops.

Within minutes, the Israeli army sent tanks and helicopters to the area to disperse Palestinians, four of whom were slightly wounded.

The incident was the latest but not the bloodiest example of how minor clashes escalate quickly and spin out of control.

In the West Bank town of Tulkarm, Israeli troops fired on Palestinian rioters, killing a 17-year-old protester who was shot in the chest.

Witnesses said he had been taking part in a demonstration in which a second Palestinian was wounded.

Another teen-age Palestinian was fatally shot while passing near an Israeli army post in the Gaza Strip in circumstances that were not immediately clear.

Israel has plied Mr. Arafat with ultimatums to call off the riots, which were touched off by the Sept. 28 visit of right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon to a Jerusalem site holy to Muslims and Jews.

Mr. Arafat has said he would put his signature to a truce only if an international investigative committee were appointed, a condition Israel had rejected outright.

Palestinian officials said yesterday that Israel was willing to submit to a probe conducted by the United States and Norway but that Mr. Arafat had spurned the idea.

"We have contributed greatly to achieving more calm in our areas, but the Israelis have done absolutely nothing," said Palestinian Cabinet minister Nabil Shaath.

Mr. Barak accused Palestinians of freeing several dozen jailed members of the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups who he said had a hand in planning suicide bombings that killed scores of Israelis.

"I have instructed our security establishment to take precautions against the possibility of terrorist attacks," Mr. Barak said after addressing lawmakers. "The responsibility for these kinds of attacks will fall on those who release Hamas and Islamic Jihad members from prison."

Israeli analysts said the release was part of Mr. Arafat's strategy to increase pressure on Israel and close ranks with groups that have been critical of his administration.

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