Violence continues as leaders issue lukewarm calls for peace

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The Independent Online

Exchanges of fire continued early on Wednesday after Israeli and Palestinian leaders, responding to a call from U.S. President Bill Clinton at the end of an emergency summit, issued lukewarm appeals to end nearly three weeks of violence that has taken more than 100 lives.

Exchanges of fire continued early on Wednesday after Israeli and Palestinian leaders, responding to a call from U.S. President Bill Clinton at the end of an emergency summit, issued lukewarm appeals to end nearly three weeks of violence that has taken more than 100 lives.

Palestinians and Israeli forces traded gunshots in the divided West Bank city of Hebron, in the Bethlehem area and near Ramallah, where gunmen targeted the Jewish settlement of Psagot after several days of quiet there.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat released written statements following a summit meeting with Clinton in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Clinton said both leaders would make unequivocal calls for an end to the violence.

Shortly after returning home Tuesday, Barak said his forces would be "meticulous in their efforts to end the violence and prevent further loss of life," but his statement added that this depended on the Palestinians.

Barak told Israel television that if the Palestinians stop the riots within 48 hours, he would order Israeli tanks to withdraw from forward positions. Israel radio reported that some tanks would be pulled back Wednesday.

At the United Nations, Palestinian observer Nasser al-Kidwa said Barak's remarks were "condescending" and "not promising."

Arafat's office issued a two-page statement that contained the sentence, "The Palestinian leadership stresses here that our people will not initiate violence, but our people were the victims of this violence." Barak's office had no immediate comment.

Israel pledged to call off a quarantine that has confined Palestinians to their cities and towns, and to allow the Palestinian airport in Gaza to reopen. However, the Israeli military said these steps would not be taken until security commanders meet. Israel radio said the meeting might take place early Wednesday.

Arafat's field commanders were quick to dismiss the summit understandings. Marwan Barghouti, commander of the West Bank "Tanzim" militia affiliated with Arafat's Fatah movement, said his forces would continue their struggle against Israel "until we achieve sovereignty."

Israeli army commanders were also talking tough. After Palestinians fired on Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood in the part of Jerusalem Israel captured in the 1967 war, Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Eitan warned Palestinians in a village where the gunfire originated to leave their homes, threatening to respond with helicopter and tank fire.

An Israeli paramilitary border policeman was critically wounded by the Palestinian gunfire, and a resident was lightly wounded.

Streets of Gilo were deserted and dark early Wednesday. Bulletproof barriers were installed in front of building entrances, and Jerusalem's mayor pledged to build more protective devices there.

Three Palestinians died Tuesday, bringing the death toll over 20 days of clashes to 102, most of them Palestinians. The riots started Sept. 28 after a hardline Israeli politician visited a disputed hilltop in the Old City of Jerusalem, a site holy to Muslims and Jews.

Also Tuesday, Palestinian officials gave Israel a Torah scroll that survived a Palestinian attack on the ancient synagogue in Jericho. Palestinians burned the synagogue Thursday after Israeli helicopters blasted five targets in the West Bank and Gaza, retaliation for the killing of two Israeli soldiers by a frenzied Palestinian mob in Ramallah.

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