Ten die as Israeli troops open fire

Tanks used in running battles with Palestinians
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The Independent Online

Israel sent in helicopter gunships, fired anti-tank missiles and deployed tanks yesterday in a third day of battles with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Israel sent in helicopter gunships, fired anti-tank missiles and deployed tanks yesterday in a third day of battles with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

By nightfall, the death toll had risen to 29, after an Israeli soldier and another nine Palestinians were killed, among them a 10-year-old boy. At least 700 people have been injured. Emotions rose to a new pitch, fuelled by television pictures showing the death of Mohammed Jemal al-Durah, 12, shot during a gun battle on Saturday in Gaza while trying to shelter beside his father.

The Israelis sent tanks to the edge of the West Bank towns of Nablus and Ramallah, both controlled by the Palestinian Authority. It appeared to be an attempt by the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, to threaten Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, with an even heavier use of force in the hope that he will end the unrest.

But Mr Arafat does not have total control of the thousands of angry young Arabs beneath his sway. Hizbollah, the Islamic militants lionised by many Palestinians who believe they forced Israel to withdraw from south Lebanon this year, issued a statement urging the Palestinians to fight on.

American diplomats tried to calm the situation in the hope of salvaging the defunct peace negotiations. But many Palestinians long ago lost faith in the Clinton administration, which they see as pro-Israeli, an impression underscored when Mr Clinton blamed Mr Arafat for the failure of the July Camp David talks.

Yesterday there were signs the unrest was spreading to the 1 million Israeli Arabs, who have long complained of being the victims of discrimination and who have shown signs of growing restlessness. Strikes and clashes were reported in Arab towns across Israel.

In Nablus, where three people were killed yesterday, witnesses said two Israeli helicopters unleashed a barrage on crowds. The Israelis said the aircraft were rescuing a wounded soldier, and denied they fired.

The battles erupted where zones under Israeli military control abut Palestinian areas. One was the Israeli-controlled Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, where the Israeli army said one soldier died. Reports said gunmen on rooftops blasted away at Israeli soldiers in the compound, who fired back. At the same time Arab teenagers lobbed firebombs over the walls.

Another flashpoint was a junction at an Israeli-controlled settlers' road in Gaza - the scene of Mohammed Durah's death - where rockets and machine-guns were fired during a battle yesterday afternoon.

There was a third clash in Ramallah - the Palestinian Authority's West Bank headquarters - where Israeli snipers fired from a hotel rooftop and the ground-floor cafeteria at Palestinian gunmen outside.

Peace negotiators resorted to trading accusations. Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel's acting Foreign Minister, said the violence was "orchestrated from above". A Palestinian negotiator, Ahmed Qureia, accused Israel of committing crimes against defenceless people.

Ariel Sharon, leader of the Likud party, denied he caused the violence, which began after he visited the most sensitive and disputed place in the region - the holy sites on Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, in the heart of Jerusalem. Instead, he blamed Mr Arafat, saying the unrest was "part of his policy" for pressuring Israel and the United States "when he doesn't get what he wants".

Last night Israeli and Palestinian officials said a ceasefire agreement had been reached but it was far from clear whether the commitments would stick or be observed on the ground.

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