Another 14-year-old dies after riot

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The Independent Online

Three more Palestinians and one soldier were killed, two Arab towns were placed under a fresh blockade, Israeli tanks fired shells and a small bomb went off in West Jerusalem within 12 hours yesterday.

Three more Palestinians and one soldier were killed, two Arab towns were placed under a fresh blockade, Israeli tanks fired shells and a small bomb went off in West Jerusalem within 12 hours yesterday.

Israel's new military strategy of assassinating Palestinian guerrilla leaders on their own turf appeared to have deepened the six-week conflict, burying a ceasefire that was proclaimed nine days ago but never worked.

A day after Israel killed Hussein Abayat, a district commander of the Fatah militia Tanzim, by blasting his truck with TOW missiles fired from Apache helicopters, the Palestinians lost no time in seeking revenge.

Waving flags and banners, thousands turned out in Bethlehem for the burial of Mr Abayat, a little-known figure before the intifada who is now regarded as a hero and martyr across the occupied territories. Afterwards, as Israeli helicopters hovered overhead, gunmen from the funeral procession broke away and fired on Rachel's Tomb, an Israeli enclave, seriously injuring an Israeli soldier, who later died.

Israeli forces struck back, with tanks firing at least four shells into empty buildings used by Palestinian gunmen in Ramallah, the Palestinian-run city north of Jerusalem.

Undeterred by the fact that two middle-aged Arab women passers-by were also killed in Thursday's missile strike, Ehud Barak, Israel's Prime Minister, said yesterday that there would be more such strikes against Palestinian guerrillas. The Israeli army refused to apologise for killing the women, blaming Tanzim "terrorists" for operating in populated areas.

Israel and the Palestiniansnow seem locked into a low-level guerrilla war that could drag on for months, claiming hundreds more lives. There is no sign that the leadership of either side has the power to end it.

The killing of Mr Abayat privately angered the Americans, coming just before Bill Clinton was due to meet Yasser Arafat in Washington to persuade him to recognise a truce. Mr Abayat was not unknown to the US - the Palestinians say the CIA trained him, as it did other members of Mr Arafat's large security apparatus.

His assassination makes it even more likely that little positive will be achieved when Mr Barak meets the US President tomorrow. The Israeli leader has said it would be "far-fetched" to expect the Washington talks to produce a resumption in negotiations. Mr Barak said he wanted to press for the enactment of a ceasefire, agreed last month at Sharm el-Sheikh, and again by Shimon Peres and Mr Arafat on 1 November. But for now it is dead, and has little chance of resurrection.

After the violence in Bethlehem, Israel imposed a fresh blockade on the town, and on Ramallah - banning Palestinians from entering or leaving. As ever, the Israeli army stressed that they had no intention of harming the population with the closures. But the effect was further to crank up the tension and resentment.

That rose several more notches yesterday after three Palestinians, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed by Israeli troops during riots at Jenin on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Despite its new strategy, the Israeli army showed no sign of abandoning its policy of killing young Arabs - including many children - on a daily basis, a slaughter that has been made all the more possible by the lack of any concrete measures to deter it by Western governments. As the killings no longer make international headlines, the pressure on the outside world to force Israel to stop is easing off.

Condemnation has only been verbal - an accusation by the UN Commission on Human Rights that Israel had committed war crimes, and a resolution by the UN Security Council condemning the "excessive use of force".

Mary Robinson, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, has arrived in the region to investigate the violence, but her trip is in trouble. Israel's Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami - a smooth-talker in the vanguard of Israel's TV propaganda war - has refused to meet her after she cancelled a plan to meet the right-wing mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, and the opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, afterthe Palestinians objected to her seeing the latter.

Israel is bracing itself for further reprisals from the Palestinians, particularly from militant Islamic groups willing to defy Mr Arafat by mounting attacks over the 1967 Green Line in Israel itself. Nerves are still raw after a bomb in West Jerusalem killed two Israelis nine days ago. There was another scare yesterday, after a small bomb detonated close to the Old City, slightly injuring a policeman. It exploded as a few thousand Palestinian men over 45 - the only Muslims that the ruling Israelis will allow into the place in these tense times - were gathering for Friday prayers on the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount.