Sharon Talks Terms

Israeli prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview published Friday that he favors a long-term interim deal with the Palestinians that would give them a far smaller and weaker state than they demand.

Sharon told the newspaper Maariv that, with another Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank, such as the one promised in a 1998 interim peace accord, "it's possible to reach 42 percent, plus or minus." But that number is only a little bit more than the West Bank land in which Palestinians already have full or partial control and clearly would not be enough to satisfy the Palestinians.

The Palestinians want to establish a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as traditionally Arab east Jerusalem. Sharon's predecessor, Ehud Barak, had offered to transfer some 95 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians in a peace deal.

Sharon also continued the ongoing blame game, reiterating that he will not meet with Arafat until Palestinian attacks on Israelis stop.

On a relatively quiet day in the Palestinians' seven-month uprising against Israeli occupation, sporadic clashes erupted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in which at least 16 Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers were wounded.

In the Old City of Jerusalem, Palestinian youths briefly threw stones at Israeli security guards at a location that is sacred to both religions and frequently the scene of clashes after Muslim Friday prayers.

Three Israel troops were wounded near the West Bank village of al-Khader when a bomb exploded near their vehicle, an army spokeswoman said. Later, stone-throwing clashes broke out and four Palestinians were hurt by Israeli fire, hospital officials said.

Witnesses said two separate gunbattles took place in Gaza near the Egyptian border at Rafah but there were no casualties.

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About 2,000 Palestinians rallied in the West Bank city of Nablus after Friday prayers denouncing security talks held earlier in the week in an attempt to end the uprising.

Witnesses said minor stone-throwing against Israeli soldiers erupted near Karni crossing between Israel and Gaza. Palestinian hospital sources said seven people were wounded when Israeli troops opened fire to break up the trouble.

In Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, about 40 masked men, shrouded in white sheets — a symbol of martyrdom to Palestinians — renewed their vows to the militant Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group that has carried out bombings in Israel.

Five Palestinians were also hurt in stone-throwing clashes near the West Bank town of Qalqilya.

Palestinians on Friday blamed Israel for the botched attempt to kill a leading member of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement and said they arrested suspected informers who delivered a booby-tapped car to the intended victim.

The Israeli army said it knew nothing about the rigged car. Raanan Gissin, an aide to Sharon, said the accusations "are not worth responding to."

In the West Bank town of Beit Ummar, thousands attended the burial of 14-year-old Shoukat Alami, who was shot dead by Israeli troops Thursday night. Palestinians said there were no clashes at the time, but the army said soldiers shot at someone trying to throw a firebomb at a bus, setting off an exchange of gunfire.

"Beloved Qassam, set off bombs in Tel Aviv," the crowd chanted, referring to the military wing of the Islamic militant group Hamas which has carried out a series of suicide attacks in Israel.

Overall, 469 people have been killed in the conflict, including 386 Palestinians, 64 Israeli Jews and 19 others.

Edward Walker, the assistant U.S. secretary of state for the Near East, is going to Jordan, Syria and Turkey this weekend for talks on Iraq and the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians.

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