Students clash with army as crucial Israeli elections loom

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The Independent Online

The renewed violence which has hit Israel and the occupied territories a month before crucial elections continued yesterday, with clashes in Bethlehem between Palestinian students and the Israeli army.

The renewed violence which has hit Israel and the occupied territories a month before crucial elections continued yesterday, with clashes in Bethlehem between Palestinian students and the Israeli army.

Soldiers fired rubber bullets and stun grenades into a building at Bethlehem University, from which they were being stoned. A military source said the soldiers were conducting an operation near the university when the students attacked them.

The unrest came a day after six people died in an attack by Palestinian militants on a West Bank settlement. On Thursday, Israeli soldiers killed nine Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, ending a relative lull in the fighting that had lasted almost a month.

The heavy death toll could have an impact on Israel's election on 28 January. Although Ariel Sharon's Likud party is expected to win because of its tough stance on security, its lead in the polls had been eroded by a police investigation of alleged vote-buying in recent internal party elections.

Israeli soldiers demolished two homes of Palestinian militants in Hebron yesterday following an attack on the nearby Jewish settlement of Otniel, in which two men shot dead four seminary students on Friday night before being killed themselves. The students had gathered for Sabbath dinner in the seminary's dining hall when the two men, dressed in Israeli army uniforms and armed with M-16 assault rifles, burst into the adjoining kitchen and opened fire, immediately killing three students.

Another student, Yehuda Glick, told Israeli radio yesterday that their supervisor locked the connecting door to the dining hall, preventing further deaths, but paid the price with his own life. The attackers tried unsuccessfully to break down the locked door, wounding eight more people through a shattered window before making their retreat, the army said.

The militant Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for Friday's attack, saying it was avenging the killing of Abu Roub, a militia leader in the West Bank town of Jenin, by Israeli soldiers a day earlier.

In the village of Doura, near Otniel, Israeli troops blew up the home of an Islamic Jihad activist wanted on suspicion of planning or carrying out attacks and the home of a militant from Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, who was shot dead by soldiers last year.

Despite ceasefire talks in Cairo, the Islamic militant group Hamas says it will not stop bombings and shootings. Israelis "should not feel safe", the group's spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, told a rally marking the 15th anniversary of its founding. Hamas has been responsible for dozens of suicide bombings since the start of the Palestinian uprising.

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