New Mideast Anniversary Trouble

Gooded Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine member stands next to hanged effigy of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during march in Gaza City 9/29/01
Tens of thousands of Palestinians marched in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Saturday in support of their uprising against Israel. Three Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded in confrontations with Israeli troops.

Israeli and Palestinian officials warned that the ceasefire would collapse if there were no let-up in the violence, which followed Wednesday's reaffirmation of a truce plan by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

The Palestinians said Israel hasn't started pulling back troops, as promised, and has used excessive force. Israel said the Palestinians haven't made a serious effort to stop violent protests.

More security talks were set for Sunday, but both sides said expectations were low. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was expected to meet Sunday with two senior Palestinian negotiators, Israel TV said.

It was not clear whether tensions would fizzle once the Palestinians' anniversary commemorations ended, or whether Saturday's protests signal strong popular opposition to a truce.

In the past, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been reluctant to go against the public mood in the Palestinian areas. On the other hand, in the past two weeks, he has gone out of his way to be seen as supportive of U.S. policy.

Already, there have been signs of open dissent. On Friday, about 150 Palestinians opposed to a cease-fire threw stones and firebombs at an empty Palestinian police station in Gaza's Rafah refugee camp, a persistent trouble spot.

In some areas, Palestinian policemen tried to contain protests, though in other cases they did not interfere.

A 14-year-old Palestinian was the latest person to die in stone throwing and exchanges of fire across the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Palestinians marked the first anniversary of the start of their uprising with protests and rallies.

At least 602 Palestinians and 169 Israelis have died since the uprising against Israeli occupation began after peace negotiations deadlocked.

Chanting "Death to Israel," thousands of Palestinians at rallies in Gaza and the West Bank city of Nablus marched behind an effigy of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hanging from gallows with a rope around its neck.

Israeli troops confronted hundreds of stone throwers across Gaza and near the West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah and Tulkarm in scenes reminiscent of the early days of the revolt.

Sharon called a meeting of his inner security cabinet in Tel Aviv late on Saturday to discuss the violence and "make decisions," a senior Israeli political source said.

The 14-year-old Palestinian was killed during stone throwing near the Karni Crossing in Gaza, Palestinian doctors said. The army said some of the 300 protesters fired at the soldiers who responded with "riot control means," not live fire.

Earlier, troops killed an 18-year-old Palestinian in the Gaza Strip and a 48-year-old Palestinian in the West Bank city of Hebron, Palesinian doctors said.

The army said troops fired at Palestinian gunmen in Hebron after two soldiers were wounded by gunfire. Troops used "riot control means" to combat "very violent rioting" in Gaza, it said. Each side said the other fired first.

Palestinian hospital officials said 110 Palestinians were wounded in Saturday's violence, nine critically.

The bloodshed was a blow to efforts to forge a lasting truce which U.S. officials hope will encourage Arab and Muslim states to join a coalition against terrorism after the September 11 suicide plane attacks on New York and Washington.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said Israel had killed 14 Palestinians since Arafat and Peres agreed to a ceasefire on Wednesday. "If this is called a ceasefire, then what is war?" he asked.

"If the Israelis continue this policy, the ceasefire will collapse and no talks can salvage the situation," he added.

Sharon's spokesman Raanan Gissin blamed the Palestinians for the violence saying: "Arafat has not fulfilled one thing that he agreed to do."

But Peres defended the truce, saying he hoped violence was waning. "There is definitely a change," he said, noting that there had been no major bombings against Israel since Wednesday's talks.

Arafat was due to hold talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Sunday on the truce efforts. Israeli cabinet minister Danny Naveh was scheduled to meet Mubarak later in the day, Israeli officials said.

Protests and rallies took place across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank after commemorative events on Friday. In Nablus, Palestinians burned a model airplane decorated in the colors of the American and Israeli flags.

Although Arafat and Peres pledged their commitment to a ceasefire plan on Wednesday, obstacles include disagreement over the timetable, vows by Palestinian militants to continue fighting and opposition to negotiations by right-wing Israelis.

Some militants have said that while they may halt suicide bombings in Israel proper, they would not stop attacking Israelis living in the West Bank and Gaza. Even in Arafat's Fatah movement, there was some opposition to laying down arms.

In Gaza City, more than 10,000 Palestinians marched through the streets Saturday to show their support for the uprising against Israel. Masked gunmen fired assault rifles in the air. "The uprising will continue until victory," the crowd chanted.

In Nablus in the West Bank, some 25,000 demonstrators joined a march organized by several Palestinian factions, including Fatah movement and the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Abed Rabbo said Israel promised in security talks on Friday to ease its blockade of the West Bank and Gaza Strip the same day, but Palestinians reported few signs that the army was easing its grip.

Israel, hit by a wave of suicide and car bombings, says it tightened its blockade of Palestinian areas for security reasons after the revolt began. Palestiians call the blockade, which has crippled their economy, collective punishment.

Peres said both sides were supposed to start implementing the initial steps of the truce plan on Sunday, 48 hours after Friday's security cabinet meeting.

He said Israel was interested in ending the blockade, adding that it "only increases hatred and support of terror."

Sharon's spokesman Gissin said the closure would be eased only in areas where violence ceased.

He said the Palestinian Authority had not carried out Israel's demand for the immediate arrest of 10 people on a list of about 100 who Israel feared were "ticking bombs." Gissin said Peres gave Arafat the list on Wednesday.

Senior Palestinian security officials said the issue of arrests had not been discussed at any of the meetings. Officials say they will not arrest people based on Israeli lists but will arrest those violating Arafat's ceasefire orders.

Israeli-Palestinian fighting erupted Sept. 28, 2000, when Ariel Sharon, now Israel's prime minister, visited a contested holy site in Jerusalem's Old City, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary. In the year since then, 648 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 177 on the Israeli side.

Throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinians planned anniversary marches Friday, to leave from mosques after noon prayers. Traditionally, such marches have led to confrontations with Israeli troops. In the town of Nazareth in northern Israel, Arab residents scheduled a solidarity rally.

Police deployed reinforcements in the Old City of Jerusalem for Muslim prayers. Israel, which controls entry to contested shrine that is home to the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques, banned men under 40 years of age from entering.

Over the weekend, Peres was to meet with Palestinian Parliament Speaker Ahmed Qureia to discuss a timetable for the coming days, the official said.

However, the truce has been marred by violence that has left six Palestinians dead and three Israeli soldiers wounded since Wednesday.

The chain of events began just before Wednesday's Peres-Arafat meeting.

Palestinians detonated a bomb in a tunnel next to an Israeli army base near the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, wounding three soldiers and damaging the position, target of daily attacks by Palestinians. Israel says the Palestinians use tunnels in the area to smuggle weapons in from Egypt.

On Thursday, Israeli tanks and bulldozers wrecked several houses in the Rafah refugee camp near the outpost. The Israelis said the opening of the tunnel used in the bombing was under one of the houses. In exchanges of fire before and after the incursion, six Palestinians were killed.

Palestinians charged that the Israeli military was trying to sabotage the cease-fire. "We hold the Israeli government responsible for this dangerous escalation," said Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh.

Israeli Deputy Defense Ministr Dalia Rabin-Pelossof said Friday that the Israeli operation "was a response to a very serious attack on our position ... and we had to immediately defend the area."

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called on Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes and halt incursions into Palestinian territory, calling them "provocative acts." He said the Peres-Arafat meeting offered a "genuine opportunity to break the cycle of violence."

Boucher called on the Palestinians to "pre-empt violence, to arrest those responsible for planning and conducting acts of violence and terror."

Peres said the Palestinians "have no choice" but to implement the new cease-fire, though earlier truces have failed. "They want legitimacy, not as a terrorist group" in the context of U.S. coalition-building efforts, Peres told the Maariv daily in an interview published Friday.

Also Friday, a 17-year-old Palestinian died of injuries sustained a week ago in a clash with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank town of Ramallah, doctors said.

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