Ceasefires fail as bloodshed engulfs Israel

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The Independent Online

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, agreed last night to meet in Paris tomorrow for crisis talks aimed at quelling the wave of violence that has swept across Israel, claiming at least 51 lives in five days.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, agreed last night to meet in Paris tomorrow for crisis talks aimed at quelling the wave of violence that has swept across Israel, claiming at least 51 lives in five days.

The two leaders agreed to meet the United States Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, outside the region after a second attempt at a ceasefire was engulfed yesterday by fresh bloodshed in a conflict that has ceased to resemble the choreographed unrest of previous Israeli-Palestinian clashes and has turned instead to the weaponry of war.

The battles swept beyond the borders of the occupied territories and into frustrated and restless Arab towns in Israel, where six Israeli Arabs were killed during clashes with Israeli police firing live ammunition - the first fatalities in the these circumstances for nearly one-quarter of a century.

Seven years after the Oslo accords, the already dying peace negotiations appeared to be over. In a measure of the Palestinian lack of trust in the Americans as mediators, one of Mr Arafat's most senior negotiators, Nabil Shaath, earlier appealed to Europe for help. He said talkscould now not continue unless the European Union provided "international protection", including troops and observers, for Palestinians facing Israeli forces.

Mr Shaath outlined these demands in a request to Hubert Vedrine, the French Foreign Minister, whose country holds the presidency of the EU.

Mr Shaath said: "We would like international observers and forces in every area in which there has been direct contact and direct Israeli attack and particularly around the Haram a-Sharif [Noble Sanctuary, in Jerusalem, known to Jews as Temple Mount] and around Palestinian towns. We cannot subject the Palestinian people to such murders and carnage while we wait for the peace process."

World leaders criticised Israel's opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, whose visit to Temple Mount on Thursday triggered the explosion of unrest. In France, President Jacques Chirac blamed the violence on "irresponsible provocation" from Mr Sharon and suggested Israel had used too much force against stone-throwing Palestinians. "You don't fight the emotions of a people with armoured cars," he said after talks with Ms Albright.

The White House said cautiously that Mr Sharon's visit was "counter-productive" and asked for an investigation into how the violence began.

Fears abound that the conflict has acquired a momentum of its own, and that Mr Arafat may not be able to rein in a furious Palestinian population which is not only angry at Israel for violating its holy sites but is also weary of the Palestinian Authority, which is mired in corruption and ineptitude.

All day, reports of the battles flowed in, extinguishing any prospect of a swift renewal of the so-called peace process. Israeli helicopters attacked a Palestinian police post, and last night an Israeli soldier was reported to have been shot dead in the West Bank, the fourth in a week of violence.

Israeli tanks have been drawn up in the West Bank town of Nablus where an Israeli-occupied zone abuts a Palestinian autonomous area - in which, witnesses say, hundreds of Palestinians surrounded Israeli troops holed up at Joseph's Tomb and tried to storm them while firing guns and dropping Molotov cocktails over the wall. A spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces said it was ready to use the tanks if necessary.

The human rights group Amnesty International has condemned Israel for using excessive force against the Palestinians - it has responded toautomatic weapons with anti-tank missiles.

There were signs that the Palestinians were turning their anger on the 180,000 Jewish settlers living on occupied territory in contravention of international law. The issue of thesettlements is one of the most contentious in the peace process.

On the road to the large Jewish settlement of Ariel in the West Bank, a 24-year-old Israeli book sales representative was shot and killed - reportedly when he stopped to change a tyre. A school bus on its way to the settlement of Shiloh came under fire. Elsewhere, the mayhem continued unabated. Police fought a three-hour battle with Arab youths in the narrow alleyways of the Israeli town of Akko.

Shops were wrecked in the Israeli Arab town of Nazareth and there were violent confrontations in Um al-Fahm, close to the Green Line, in which two Israeli Arabs died.

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