Twelve Palestinians killed

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The Independent Online

At least 12 Palestinians were killed and more than 500 injured in another day of clashes with Israeli troops yesterday in what is threatening to become the worst outbreak of unrest since the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993.

At least 12 Palestinians were killed and more than 500 injured in another day of clashes with Israeli troops yesterday in what is threatening to become the worst outbreak of unrest since the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993.

The death toll over the last 48 hours had reached at least 18 last night, and there were signs that it would rise further as unrest continued in several of the major flashpoints in the Occupied Territories.

In the West Bank, six Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, including five who reportedly died in a gun battle between a dozen masked gunmen and Israeli troops near Nablus. The dead include a 16-year-old boy.

Palestinians say that the violence was set off by a visit to the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, in Jerusalem - considered sacred by Jews and Muslims - by the leader of the Likud opposition party, Ariel Sharon on Thursday. On Friday, six Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers in the 35-acre plaza, where the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque are located.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, has appealed to Yasser Arafat to restore calm. Mr Arafat has control over a plethora of security services, but in general the authority of Palestinian officials on the street is patchy.

The struggling Mr Barak - whose chances of pulling off a peace deal are further diminished by the latest events - said Israel has been showing "maximum restraint", but would do what was necessary to protect its citizens and restore order.

Emotions are also running high in Israel, not least because two Israeli soldiers were killed this week in violence in the West Bank and in Gaza. One was shot dead, reportedly by a Palestinian policeman, on Friday, and another died from wounds after a bomb attack in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

An influential Palestinian negotiator, Nabil Shaath - Mr Arafat's de facto foreign minister - said Israeli security forces committed "premeditated murder" at the Jerusalem shrine during Friday's fatal clashes.

Last night Israel's chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, claimed that he and Palestinian security chiefs had agreed a "ceasefire", but the Palestinians rejected this wording and clashes continued.

Meanwhile, protests spread across the Arab world. Young Palestinians burned effigies of Mr Sharon in a Lebanese refugee camp and Egyptian students rallied at their campuses. A thousand youths carrying Palestinian flags marched through Ein El-Hilweh, Lebanon's largest refugee camp, shouting: "We live for Palestine! We die for Palestine!" In Lebanon's 13 refugee camps, where most of the nation's 400,000 Palestinian refugees live, Palestinians observed a general strike.

In Beirut, the Lebanese Prime Minister, Salim Hoss, praised the riots in "occupied Palestine" and called on world nations to "work for an immediate halt to the Israeli aggression against Arab Jerusalem."

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