Palestinian deaths threaten hours-old ceasefire

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The horrifyingly long list of Palestinians who have died - most shot by the Israeli army - in the five-week intifada increased by two more yesterday, threatening a fragile ceasefire in its first full day.

The horrifyingly long list of Palestinians who have died - most shot by the Israeli army - in the five-week intifada increased by two more yesterday, threatening a fragile ceasefire in its first full day.

Demonstrators hurled rocks at Israeli soldiers at flashpoints in the occupied territories and the army said there were exchanges of gunfire in at least three places by mid-afternoon.

But the violence was generally lower that in recent days and both the Israeli government and Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority expressed commitment to the truce, struck on Wednesday night by the former Israeli prime minister, Shimon Peres, and the Palestinian leader.

Significantly, the ceasefire has not been recognised by radical Palestinian opposition groups - the Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and several others. It was also breached on the ground by both Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen and rioters.

One of yesterday's two casualties was a 21-year-old Gazan refugee, whom Palestinian officials said was shot dead by Israeli troops in Tulkarm in the West Bank. The Israeli army denied its forces had opened fire and suggested the man had been shot in the back. A second Palestinian, aged 19, appears to have been shot by the Israeli army during a confrontation in the village of Hizma yesterday morning.

Scores of Arabs were injured by rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at hotspots in Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem. Two Israeli soldiers sustained light wounds. The Palestinian human rights group LAW put the number of injured at 276 and said they included a man who was shot in the face.

To dampen the risk of conflict, Israeli police barred Muslims under the age of 45 from attending Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, which was still recovering from the shock of Thursday's car bomb, that killed two Jewish Israelis, including the daughter of a politician from the religious right. The Palestinian security forces also appeared to be taking steps to encourage calm in the conflict, in which more than 170 people have died. But the ceasefire remained highly vulnerable to collapse. Few expect it to last for long.

The Palestinian Authority's cabinet secretary, Ahmed Abdul Rahman, added his voice to a lengthening list of Palestinians who say they are determined the intifada will continue until the Israeli occupation ends. Some describe this as a "peaceful" intifada - although the head of the Tanzim militia has said this term can encompass throwing Molotov cocktails.

In the longer term, extracting the region from the crisis is far more complex than striking a truce and then continuing with the Oslo peace negotiations. Most Palestinians long ago gave up hope that the Oslo process would satisfy their national aspirations or fulfil what they see as their rights under international law. Mr Arafat faces too much internal opposition to be able merely to snap his fingers and end the fighting. Theintifada has seen emotions reach feverish levels and these will take months to cool.

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