Palestinians mourn victim of land war

Escalation of violence on the West Bank surrounding Israel's settlement plan has left Arabs convinced peace process is over
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The Independent Online
"He was shot through the heart," said Ibrahim Salah, the uncle of Abdullah Salah, a 20-year-old engineering student who was buried yesterday morning wrapped in a Palestinian flag. The burial took place within sight of the the hill of Har Homa, known to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim, where Israel's construction of a new Jewish settlement started clashes throughout the West Bank 11 days ago.

Abdullah Salah was the first Palestinian to die in the riots. None of the mourners seated in the forecourt of his family house down a track in Beit Sahour, a village close to Har Homa, expected him to be the last. Ibrahim Salah, who said he had spent 10 years in an Israeli prison, added: "After Jabal Abu Ghneim and after yesterday, when they fired live bullets, I believe the Israelis want to escalate the situation and blame it on the Palestinians."

Some of the boys who attended Abdullah Salah's funeral had walked along the long ridge line to the nearest Israeli checkpoint at Rachel's Tomb. Using slings, and some even wearing gas masks, they stoned the Israeli soldiers sheltering behind low walls. The soldiers fired tear-gas and rubber bullets in return. A Palestinian security man said: "We have no orders to intervene." But there was little reason to. The rioters made no effort to break through to Rachel's Tomb itself.

Predictions of widespread violence by Palestinians on the West Bank and Israeli-Arabs in Israel as they marked Land Day, a day of protest against land confiscations, were largely unfulfilled.

At the southern entrance to Ramallah, at Arak checkpoint, where Abdullah Salah had died on Saturday, there was sporadic stone throwing from a barricade made up of the wreckage of three burned-out cars and a bus. Some 200 yards down the road the Israelis had brought up two Merkava tanks on transporters.

"He was killed up there on the hillside above the road," said Marwan Barghouti, the secretary on the West Bank of Fatah, the main Palestinian political movement, pointing at the spot where the student, from the local Bit Zeit university, had died.

"A sniper hit him. The situation was quiet at the time." He added that Palestinian boys who were too young to have taken part in the intifada in 1987-93 were eager to get involved.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Barghouti, who is also a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for Ramallah, agreed that Fatah was organising the demonstrations. He said: "Most of the extremists, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, won't take part in the demonstrations. They say they are useless."

He said that in general, Palestinians were becoming more extreme: "People are beginning to lose hope. They think the Israeli government has decided to cancel the [Oslo] agreements."

Mr Barghouti angrily denied that he had ever sent "blessings" to the family of the suicide bomber who killed three women in a cafe in Tel Aviv.

He said: "This is quite untrue. We sent a message of solidarity to the village of Zurif, where the bomber came from, because it has been under total curfew for 10 days. A bomb in Israel is terror. It is different in the occupied territories."

The situation was deteriorating because of Israeli settlements. He said: "We might wait five years for a Palestinian state or three years for something to be done for the refugees.

"But we can't just let Israeli bulldozers work in Jerusalem and the West Bank putting facts on the map."

Despite the verbal rhetoric, Israelis and Palestinians were relatively restrained yesterday.

In the morning, at Arak checkpoint, members of Palestinian Preventive Security, in civilian clothes, but with pistols visible in their back pockets, were telling stone-throwers to go home.