Boy shot as Israel extends ultimatum

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A 12-year-old boy survived being shot in the head as Israeli security forces clashed for the 13th day with Palestinian protesters.

A 12-year-old boy survived being shot in the head as Israeli security forces clashed for the 13th day with Palestinian protesters.

He was taken to hospital critically wounded as about 200 Palestinians threw stones and firebombs at Israeli troops near the West Bank town of Ramallah, with the soldiers responding with rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas.

It came shortly after Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak extended a deadline to the Palestinians to stop violence.

He is now expected to attend a US-hosted Mid-East summit if one is called.

"We will act to restore calm to the extent that it depends on us, while also giving Yasser Arafat a certain additional time to do what he needs to do. There is intense international diplomatic activity which we cannot reject or ignore," Israeli government spokesman Nachman Shai said.

Shai said Israel preferred to wait and see how the situation developed on the ground before closing the door to further negotiations.

While the day's incidents represented a falling off from the most intense of the clashes last week, Barak said after meeting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that it was still too early to say whether the violence was significantly ebbing.

Mr Annan said: "If this is the start of a change, we will act accordingly."

Annan, who is trying to reconcile Palestinian demands for an international inquiry with Israel's reluctance to accept one, called it a period of "delicate and acute diplomacy".

The secretary general also said although he had not been able to see three Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah guerrillas on the Lebanese border, he believed they were alive and well.

Barak's decision to push back a deadline for ending the violence and his stated willingness to attend a US-sponsored peace summit if one is arranged, came after two phone calls from President Clinton, Israel's army radio reported.

The Israeli leader said he made the decision after weighing the possibility of a prolonged armed conflict.

A Palestinian uprising against Israel in 1987 lasted six years and ended with the first, historic peace accord in 1993 with the PLO.

"It is right to bear up for a few more days ... and not find ourselves in a few more weeks or months bogged down in a difficult conflict knowing that we may have been able to prevent it," he told army radio.

The sides were discussing - through third parties - a Palestinian demand that Israel agree to allow an international commission to investigate the events.

Most of the dead have been Palestinians, and the Palestinians say Israel has used excessive firepower.

Nabil Shaath, a top aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said a UN envoy was delivering a letter to the Israelis listing countries the Palestinians would accept on such a commission.

Barak appeared readier to compromise, telling Israeli radio he would accept an inquiry "under the authority and responsibility of the United States". Previously, he had said he would only consider submitting Israeli findings to the Americans for review.

"We will give a chance to those efforts," Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said on CBS' "Early Show" today.

"But the necessary, necessary, indispensable condition is that Arafat issue an order to his troops, to his militias, to his armed political movement - a clear order: Stop the violence now."

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said it was up to Israel to take steps to end the clashes.

"We want to stop the Israeli army from continuing shooting Palestinians. We want to stop (Jewish) settler terrorism against Palestinians, and we also want to see the Israeli government stop killing its own (Arab) citizens."

The shooting of the Palestinian boy in Gaza occurred in the southern town of Rafah, on the border with Egypt, where witnesses said about a dozen young Palestinian boys pelted Israeli troops with stones, drawing fire in return. The army said it was checking the incident.

Much of the violence overnight was centered in Israel itself. In the seaside community of Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv, two Israeli Arabs were stabbed, according to Israel TV.

In nearby Jaffa, three Arab-owned apartments were burned while some Jews, chanting "death to the Arabs," descended into the streets to smash car windows and throw stones at police.

There were Jewish-Arab clashes from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the Negev Desert in the south.

Israel's army radio said the scenes looked like "civil war," and described relations between the country's Jewish majority and Arab minority as the worst in decades.

Barak deplored the outbreak of violence between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel.

Meanwhile, Annan, European Union security chief Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov pressed ahead with efforts to restore calm.

Arafat and Ivanov met in the Gaza Strip, and Arafat said afterward the two "discussed in detail everything to save the peace process, and how to protect it in spite of all the challenges we are facing."

But he renewed accusations that Israel has used excessive force against rioters.

Ivanov, who is also in the region to try to negotiate the release of the three Israeli soldiers, said Russia would do all it could to help resolve the crisis.

Clinton also spoke with other regional leaders by phone as he weighed the possibility of flying to Egypt this week for a gathering.

But during a visit to Syria, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa indicated that there will be no US-sponsored summit in the region this week or next.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said he did not think a summit would be held and Moussa agreed, saying the next event would be the Arab summit scheduled for later in the month.