West Bank seethes as Arafat counts the cost

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The Independent Online

Israeli troops, protected by sandbags and a machine-gun, were uninvited guests in a West Bank Palestinian hotel for a second day yesterday amid more unrest at the scene of their shoot-out with Palestinian police 24 hours earlier.

As the soldiers warily poked their rifle barrels through the geranium-filled window-boxes of the City Inn Hotel, occasionally eating tea-cakes and olives, Arab students on the streets below threw stones and bottles and dodged rubber-coated bullets, tear-gas and stun grenades.

A mile away, in the Palestinian town of Ramallah, the US envoy Dennis Ross met the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, to discuss how to limit damage to the peace talks after protests in the West Bank and Gaza got out of control on Monday, leading to the City Inn clash between Palestinian and Israeli security forces.

The Palestinian authorities yesterday sought to restore order, flooding the streets with hundreds of security police, many in riot gear, who gently tried to dissuade Arab youths from further unrest.

Monday's trouble was the worst in the Palestinian territories for several years. At last three Palestinians died and 300 people were injured, including a dozen Israeli soldiers. The protests were encouraged by Mr Arafat's Fatah organisation with the intention of penalising Israel for its intransigence over the peace negotiations by adopting tactics from the intifada uprising. But the demonstrations got out of hand, reminding Mr Arafat of the anger on Palestinian streets, some of which is directed at him and the Palestinian Authority.

Until now he has proved adept at containing dissent, often by force, but the question now is whether he can continue to do so indefinitely.

According to Kanaan al-Jamal, an adviser on the peace negotiations for the Palestinian Authority, a new trend is emerging. He said: "Young people have started to feel that we should declare a new intifada, with a new strategy and new strength."

Bravado? Yes, perhaps. But this week's outburst of unrest, which continued to rumble on in a more subdued way in several Arab towns yesterday, has ensured that no one can be absolutely certain.