Four Palestinians shot dead by Israelis

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The Independent Online

Four Palestinian demonstrators were shot dead today in further bloodshed in the Middle East.

Four Palestinian demonstrators were shot dead today in further bloodshed in the Middle East.

They were among thousands of rock-throwers who clashed with Israeli troops across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In separate marches, Islamic militants clamored for more suicide attacks in Israel, chanting: "We want a big bomb".

The renewed violence came after a few days of relative calm and was expected to hamper efforts by US President Bill Clinton to revive peace talks.

Israel has insisted it will not resume negotiations unless quiet is restored. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction has said it will keep encouraging confrontations as a way of extracting concessions from Israel.

Palestinian activists declared today a "day of rage," and asked Palestinian worshippers to march from mosques to Israeli checkpoints after noon prayers, the highlight of the Muslim religious week.

Across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli troops who fired rubber-coated steel pellets and live rounds.

At a traffic circle north of the West Bank town of Ramallah, acrid smoke from a burning car rose into the air as Israeli soldiers fired a stone-throwers from behind a line of jeeps. Palestinian gunmen at one point opened fire at Israeli soldiers, and a 27-year-old Palestinian was killed by return fire.

Three more Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy, were killed in clashes in the West Bank towns of Tulkarem and Qalqiliya, and at the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza. In all, 152 Palestinians were injured today, doctors said.

The deaths brought to 133 the number of people killed in 30 days of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. The vast majority of the victims were Palestinians. More than 5,000 Palestinians have been injured, according to Palestinian hospital officials.

In the West Bank town of Nablus, about 2,000 supporters of the Islamic militant group Hamas marched through town, chanting: "We want a big bomb."

"The only way to respond to Israeli attacks is through military operations," said Salah Darwazeh, a Hamas leader in Nablus, referring to suicide bombings carried out in recent years by the Hamas military wing, Izzedine al Qassam.

In the Gaza refugee camp of Jebaliya, more than 10,000 Hamas supporters attended a rally led by several dozen masked men wearing identical white robes with the logo "The martyrs of Al Qassam."

One of the masked men wore a belt holding what was meant to resemble bombs and sticks of explosives.

Israel has been on high alert for new suicide attacks since several dozen Islamic militants were released from Palestinian jails two weeks ago.

Yesterday, a 24-year-old kindergarten janitor rode his bicycle to an Israeli army post in Gaza and detonated explosives strapped to his back, killing himself and injuring a soldier.

In response, Israeli forces destroyed a house overlooking the base and uprooted trees that gave cover to Palestinian attackers.

Israeli security officials warned of an escalation of the conflict.

"The operators are out there, at large," said army spokesman Colonel Raanan Gissin.

In Jerusalem, Israel barred Palestinian men under 35 were from praying at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound on Jerusalem's Haram as-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, a hill known to Jews as the Temple Mount and holy to both religions. Police said they imposed the restrictions to prevent possible clashes after prayers.

Worshippers dispersed quietly after planting a Palestinian flag on one of the two mosques in the compound. The Israeli-Palestinian fighting was triggered by a visit of Israel's hawkish opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, to the site September 28. The Temple Mount is the site of the biblical Jewish Temple, the holiest shrine of Judaism, and Sharon wanted to demonstrate Israeli control over the area.

In the Jewish West Bank settlement of Efrat, the main synagogue was vandalized overnight, and settlers said they suspected Palestinian intruders. The synagogue was flooded - the vandals had turned on water hoses - and swastikas and slogans were spray-painted on the walls in Arabic and Hebrew.

Efrat Mayor Eitan Golan said security at the settlement, between Jerusalem and Hebron, must be improved. "Today they spray paint.

Tomorrow they could spray gunfire," he said.

Clinton, meanwhile, called Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak late yesterday to discuss the situation, the White House said. Clinton has invited Barak and Arafat to separate talks in Washington.

Barak and Sharon worked on forging a broad coalition that could salvage Barak's minority government. Barak needs such a coalition to stay in power, while Sharon is seeking a prime political role and a say in security affairs.

Sharon raised harsh conditions, saying that his party will never accept surrendering control over any area of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, or giving the West Bank's strategic Jordan Valley to the Palestinians. Barak turned down Sharon's conditions.