Gun battle erupts between Israeli and Palestinian troops in West Bank

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The Independent Online

Israeli and Palestinian troops exchanged fire in a West Bank town Monday, and an Israeli civilian was killed, apparently by Palestinian militants, in the fourth day of deadly clashes over a contested Jerusalem shrine.

Israeli and Palestinian troops exchanged fire in a West Bank town Monday, and an Israeli civilian was killed, apparently by Palestinian militants, in the fourth day of deadly clashes over a contested Jerusalem shrine.

The street battles, sparked by a visit last week by an Israeli hard-liner to the Jerusalem shrine revered by Muslims and Jews, had taken 33 lives by Monday: In addition to the Israeli Jew, 30 Palestinians, one Israeli Arab, and one Israeli border policeman. More than 1,000 people were injured, by Palestinian count.

In the West Bank town of Nablus, a gun battle erupted after about 10,000 mourners attended the funeral march of the 20-year-old son of Nablus' governor.

After the procession, hundreds of mourners headed to Joseph's Tomb, a tiny Israeli enclave in Nablus, and several Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli troops, racing toward the walls of the compound and shooting inside. The Israelis returned fire. At one point, a firebomb struck the tomb's domed roof, erupting briefly into flames. On Sunday, an Israeli border policeman was critically wounded in the tomb compound and bled to death, as Palestinian fire kept Israeli medics away.

The violence increasingly disrupted the lives of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli tanks took up position across the hill from luxury high-rises in the West Bank town of Ramallah. In the isolated Jewish settlement of Netzarim, Israeli troops hoisted sleepy tots onto an army helicopter evacuating Israeli visitors. Roads were closed in many parts of the West Bank and even parts of Jerusalem.

Both sides said there were signs the situation was getting worse.

"There is a warlike atmosphere," said Shlomo Kostiner, a Netzarim spokesman. Hussein Asheikh, the commander of a Palestinian strike force, said the growing list of Palestinian casualties was a "sign that we are going to war to defend ourselves and the Palestinian nation."

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