Palestinian shot dead in fresh fighting

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The Independent Online

A Palestinian has been killed and about 100 others injured in the latest round of violence to hit the Middle East.

A Palestinian has been killed and about 100 others injured in the latest round of violence to hit the Middle East.

The man was shot by Israeli security forces in the volatile West Bank town of Hebron.

He was among a group of Palestinian protesters who marched on an Israeli-controlled part of the city.

It was the worst episode in a day of renewed clashes that erupted despite repeated worldwide calls for peace.

Palestinian protestors also threw rocks at Israeli police after many were banned from attending prayers at a Jerusalem mosque.

All those aged under 45 were stopped from entering the Noble Sanctuary compound on the grounds they would be most likely to riot if trouble broke out.

Some were beaten back by Israeli security forces brandishing clubs as they tried to enter the mosque, a flashpoint for clashes over the last fortnight. At least two Palestinians were injured.

World leaders have again called for an end to violence which reached a peak yesterday with the murder of two Israeli reservist soldiers.

It is believed Israeli and Palestinian leaders are close to agreeing to a weekend summit that would include the US, Egypt, Jordan and the UN.

Israeli officials confirmed the terms of a summit were being negotiated, but said no agreement had been reached.

As a condition for attending the summit, the Palestinians demanded Israel withdraw its troops from the outskirts of Palestinian cities and lift its siege of Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

Mediators have sought, without success, to calm two weeks of violence that escalated yesterday when the Israeli soldiers were mutilated by a mob of enraged Palestinians. Israel responded with combat helicopters that fired rockets at key Palestinian targets, including the residential compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Asked about the possibility of such a gathering, Arafat said, "The most important thing before a summit is to stop the aggression against our people."

The Palestinian leader was asked if his security forces would attempt to arrest those responsible for killing the Israeli soldiers. "You know that we are making very serious investigation," he said.

Many in the region described yesterday's chaos as a nail in the coffin for the peace process that Israel, the Palestinians and Clinton had invested in over the past seven years. The tangible and psychological damage led many to declarations of despair.

"I believe Mr Barak turned the light off tonight," said senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. "When it's going to be back on, I honestly don't know."

An angry Barak lashed out at Arafat, questioning the Palestinian leader's commitment to peace and holding him indirectly responsible for the deaths of the soldiers.

Barak said Israel would go after those responsible and lashed out at Arafat for releasing dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants from jails. Israeli officials warned of possible terror attacks in the heart of Israel and security forces went on high alert.

"This is a grave act that increases the probability of terror attacks," Barak said.

The current round of violence broke out September 28 after hawkish Israeli leader Ariel Sharon visited the compound, which Jews call the Temple Mount and revere as the holiest site in Judaism.

After yesterday's violent explosion, Israeli tanks circled Palestinian cities and the army clamped an internal closure on the areas, preventing Arab residents from leaving their communities. Overnight, eight missiles were fired on a Palestinian police academy in Jericho after the centuries-old "Peace Upon Israel" synagogue there was burned.

Meanwhile, a politically weak Barak said he trying to form a unity government. He held talks late yesterday with parliament faction leaders, including Sharon, and invited his right-wing Likud party to join an emergency coalition. Sharon has rebuffed Barak in the past, but the prime minister said the two leaders would continue to talk through the weekend.

For the Palestinians, Sharon's inclusion in the government would likely be seen as another indication that Barak was rapidly changing directions on peacemaking. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called Sharon "the death kiss to the peace process".

Yesterday's turmoil appeared to extinguish hopes that Israel and the Palestinians could negotiate a truce and bring an end to the bloodshed that has left at least 94 people dead, the vast majority Palestinians.

It was the first day since the violence broke out that not a single Palestinian was killed. The Israelis warned the Palestinians that they would be targeting key buildings, which were hurriedly evacuated and were empty when they were hit.

Still, the brutal killing of the soldiers in the West Bank town of Ramallah incensed Israelis.

Israel's two mass-circulation newspapers ran large photos of the attack on their front pages today. Under a headline, "A lynching of IDF soldiers," the Yediot Ahronot daily showed a Palestinian man leaning out of the second-floor window of the Ramallah police station, raising his bloodied hands in triumph to signal to the cheering crowd below that the deed had been completed. A second photo showed the body of one Israeli soldier being dropped from the window.

The rocket attacks marked the first time Israel mounted a major assault on important Palestinian sites since peacemaking began in 1993.

There had been signs that Israeli-Palestinian violence was waning earlier this week but it erupted anew when the Israeli reservists inadvertently made a wrong turn and ended up near the center of Ramallah.

The soldiers, traveling in a civilian car, were chased by Palestinians and taken to the Ramallah police station. Word of their presence quickly spread, and more than 1,000 Palestinians surged toward the police station.

About 10 attackers broke through a second-floor window, and soon emerged with blood-covered hands as the crowd roared with approval.

The body of one Israeli soldiers was thrown into the street, and the second was dangled down by a rope, where the corpse was stomped and beaten with iron bars.

The army said two bodies were handed over to Israel and later released their names. They were father of three, Yossi Avrahami, 38, and Vadim Norjitz, was a Russian immigrant who married his wife Irina only a week earlier.

It has been revealed the Avrahami's wife phoned his mobile after hearing of an attack. A man who answered told her: "I just killed your husband."

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