Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli tank fire

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The Independent Online

A Palestinian teenager was killed by heavy-weapons fire today in the latest bloodshed to stain the Middle East.

A Palestinian teenager was killed by heavy-weapons fire today in the latest bloodshed to stain the Middle East.

His death came as thousands marched in funeral processions for four other Palestinians, including a 12-year-old boy, who were slain in violence yesterday.

The turmoil in the Gaza Strip came as Israeli and Palestinian delegations were in Washington for a third day of consultations aimed at restarting peace negotiations.

Also in Gaza, a group of diplomats touring the area had to scurry for cover when an exchange of gunfire erupted, said Reinhard Wiemer, spokesman for the German Embassy. The fire was not directed at the diplomats, and no one was hurt in the incident near Khan Yunis, he said.

The dead Palestinian youth, Ahed Marish, 18, was hit by gunfire from an Israeli tank as he was walking to his home near the Karni crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Palestinians said. Ambulance drivers said the body was badly mutilated by heavy-caliber bullets. The Israeli military said it was checking the report.

At the Rafah refugee camp in the southern tip of Gaza, masked gunmen fired into the air as four flag-draped coffins were carried through the streets, close to the spot where a heavy firefight between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops had erupted yesterday.

One masked mourner burned an Israeli flag, while another shouted a warning to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak into a loudspeaker, "Barak, know that our bullets will take revenge for all the bloodshed."

The Israeli-Palestinian fighting, which broke out at the end of September, has taken the lives of 337 people, most of them Palestinians.

In less than three months, the death toll has surpassed the number killed during the entire first year of the previous Palestinian uprising which lasted from 1987 to 1993. A total of 331 people were killed in the first year, from December 1987 to December 1988.

The increased death toll reflects Palestinian gunfire and a heavier Israeli response, including machine guns, tanks and attack helicopters. In the first uprising, Palestinians rarely opened fire, attacking Israeli soldiers with rocks and bottles. The Israelis responded with tear gas and rifle fire.

Near the West Bank town of Ramallah, four Israeli soldiers were hurt when a Palestinian rammed his truck into them near a military checkpoint while a stone-throwing clash was in progress, the army said. Soldiers shot at the truck and captured the driver, who suffered wounds to the hand, arm and leg, a hospital said.

Among the mourners at the Rafah funeral was the mother of 12-year-old Hani al-Sofi, who wept as she carried a small framed black-and-white photo of him.

"His dream was to become a good man who could serve his people," she said, then broke off, unable to speak for her sobs. Several hundred ululating women were among the crowd of 5,000 mourners.

One of the four being buried had died only hours earlier of wounds from yesterday's clash. The radical Islamic group Hamas disclosed he had been a member of its military wing.

Graffiti on the walls of the refugee camp declared: "Hamas announces the death of the hero ... and will take revenge for all the martyrs."

At the US-brokered talks in Washington, Israeli and Palestinian delegations were racing the clock to come to agreement on peace terms before US President Bill Clinton leaves office January 20.

Delegates from both sides, and Israeli media reports, said Clinton had presented the two sides with a proposed outline for a sweeping accord. Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, heading the Israeli delegation, said from Washington that Israel hoped a deal could be struck.

"What remains open is the question of whether we ... will be able to solve all the problems that are on the agenda," Ben-Ami told army radio. Israel "can certainly live with most of the parameters" presented by US mediators, he said.

One sticking point is the Palestinian demand that millions of refugees be allowed to return to homes in what is now Israel - a position Israel flatly rejects. Clinton has hinted that the refugees might be offered financial compensation instead.

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