Riots rage in Hebron after protester dies

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The Independent Online
HEBRON, partitioned between Israel and the Palestinians in 1997, is a microcosm of what the West Bank will look like if President Bill Clinton gets an agreement on a limited Israeli withdrawal at the Washington summit next week.

The mood in the city is not a good omen. Outside the al-Ansa mosque young Palestinians, some carrying submachine-guns, were carrying the body of Amjed al-Natshe on a wooden bier to the local cemetery. He died when a rubber-coated steel bullet fired by an Israeli soldier hit him in the head.

Riots were still going on yesterday. A 30ft-high wire mesh fence protects Beit Hadassah, a centre for the 400 militant Jewish settlers in the city, who live there surrounded by 120,000 Palestinians. In front of it, at the top of Shalala Street, a squad of Israeli soldiers with vizored helmets and plastic shields were firing rubber bullets at stone-throwers in the Palestinian section of the city.

The wedge of territory held by Israel is also home to 20,000 Palestinians. It contains the heart of the old city of Hebron, including the al-Ibrahimi mosque and the casbah, or market.

But the streets were deserted yesterday, apart from the occasional settler celebrating the Jewish feast of Sukkot. All Palestinians in the area have been under curfew since a grenade attack on soldiers 10 days ago.

Hamzi Abu Sneinneh, 18, a baker, was peering from the door of his house.

He said: "If we go out, they arrest us and fine us 1,000 shekels (pounds 130). They thought there was stone throwing from my home. When they came in they smashed all the furniture in the house."

His friend Hamad al-Rajabi, also 18, who is a construction worker, was contemptuous of the forthcoming talks in Washington.

"It is all words," he said. "It is against the Koran."

Overlooking the old city stands Tel Rumeida, a small Jewish settlement of seven families living in mobile homes. Earlier this week, the government laid the foundation stone for permanent fortified houses in retaliation for the murder of a rabbi here in August. There was desultory stone throwing and oily black smoke billowed up from a burning tyre. A young Palestinian, crouching low, was trying to set fire to a second tyre in the middle of the road. A soldier on a roof was trying to hit him with rubber coated steel bullets.

It was all a long way from the "new spirit" which Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, said she found when she announced earlier in the week that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, would meet with Mr Clinton on 15 October.

Palestinians in Hebron are not optimistic that anything good will come out of the meeting. As the funeral procession for Amjed al-Natshe passed by, the preacher in one mosque broadcast over a loud speaker his analysis of what had happened.

"Albright came with a bag from Clinton, but the bag was empty," he said. "Clinton has many problems. He is weak. He just wants to keep his chair [job]. The only strong one is Netanyahu."