Gun Battles in Mideast
Death Toll at 29, Unrest Spreads into Israel Proper
J E R U S A L E M, Oct. 1 - Palestinians and Israeli troops continued gun
battles today on the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Israelis
opened fire from helicopters, moved tanks toward battles, and the deadly
unrest spread into Israel itself.
The worst violence since 1996.
Scores were killed or wounded in fighting involving guns, rocks and
makeshift fire bombs. Two young boys are among the dead.
A total of 29 Palestinians have been killed in three days of rioting,
and more than 700 injured, according to Palestinian officials. Israel says
several security force members have been wounded.
One Israeli border policeman was critically wounded today, trapped
for hours in a tiny Israeli enclave in the West Bank town of Nablus, as
Palestinian fire blocked rescue teams from reaching the area.
The casualties make the current violence the worst in the region in
In a particularly graphic incident caught on videotape Saturday in
Gaza, a Palestinian father tried to sheild his 12-year-old son as they
crouched behind a metal barrier and pleaded for crossfire to stop. The
father held his hand protectively over the boy, who was screaming with
fear, but moments later the youngster was shot in the stomach and died.
The father lay next to him, unconscious from his own wounds, but is
expected to survive.
Late Saturday, thousands joined a tense funeral procession for the
10-Year-Old Boy Killed
Today, in the Palestinian West Bank town of Nablus, a 10-year-old boy was
among four killed.and at least 25 injured, according to doctors.
The battle was fought over Joseph's Tomb, a tiny Israeli-controlled
enclave smaller than a city block and ringed by a cement block wall and
barbed wire. An Israeli soldier shot from a lookout post, with only the
top of his helmet and his weapon visible.
Palestinian gunmen, some in black ski masks, raced up to the wall and
fired into the compound where Jews believe the biblical patriarch Joseph
At one point, two helicopter gunships swooped down and unleashed a
barrage of fire, sending hundreds of Palestinians fleeing for cover. The
army said the helicopters were brought in to rescue the wounded Israeli
officer, who was taken to safety sometime after nightfall.
"This is a holy struggle," said Mahmoud Jamal, one of the Palestinian
demonstrators who was injured in the face as he and others tried to break
down the gate of Joseph's Tomb, which was retained by Israel after it
withdraw its troops from the city and other Palestinian towns in 1995.
Across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli troops fired anti-tank
missiles, hurled grenades and shot from helicopter gunships. Several
Israeli tanks rumbled toward the Palestinian-run towns of Nablus and
Ramallah in a warning gesture, but did not cross the lines of
In addition to Nablus, firefights also erupted in the West Bank town
of Ramallah, in the town of Khan Yunis near the Egyptian border and at an
Israeli army post close to the isolated Jewish settlement of Netzarim in
Palestinians Cheer Battle
Near Netzarim, at least two Palestinians were killed and at least 40
injured, many with serious wounds to the head and abdomen, doctors said.
Scores of gunmen, cheered on by hundreds of Palestinian
rock-throwers, took aim at a fortress-like Israeli outpost. One bearded
gunman knelt behind a low wall as he fired his M-16 assault rifle. Another
demonstrator pleaded with a more hesitant shooter to hand over the weapon
so he could have a go.
A Palestinian man critically wounded in the exchange lay motionless
on the street outside the Israeli post for several minutes before
demonstrators made a dash and dragged him away. The victim's white shirt
was bloodied in the back, and his head lolled back and forth.
On the outskirts of Ramallah, Israeli troops commandeered a luxury
hotel, with Israeli snipers firing from the rooftop and the groundfloor
dining hall at Palestinian gunmen taking cover in abandoned buildings and
Dozens of guests and journalists were trapped in the lobby of the New
City Inn as the steady staccato of gunfire was heard outside.
An angry crowd of Palestinians threw rocks and makeshift fire bombs,
as Israeli soldiers armed with M16s and wearing flak jackets fired back
with rubber-coated bullets.
At one point, a young Palestinian boy fell wounded from a sniper's
bullet as he appeared to try and throw a Molotov cocktail. He was taken
away on a stretcher.
At other points, crowds of Palestinians screamed at Israeli snipers
on the roofs of buildings, yelling things like, "What are you doing?" and,
"Why are you killing us?"
'War Between Religions'
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has traditionally focused on their
political dispute, but the current rioting also includes emotional appeals
to religious differences.
"This is a war between religions and I'm participating because I'm
Muslim," said Khaled Abu Araish, a 25-year-old demonstrator in Hebron, on
the West Bank.
This morning in Hebron, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and
rubber-coated bullets at Palestinian demonstrators, as about 200
Palestinian youths threw rocks. Burning tires and rocks littered the
streets from four days of protests.
Among the wounded in Hebron was an ABCNEWS cameraman, Amer Gabari,
who was hospitalized after he was hit in the head with a rock. He was
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser
Arafat tried, but failed, to ease tensions in a Saturday night phone
U.S. diplomats were working frantically with both sides to try to
rescue the negotiations, but with time running short - Barak faces an
opposition threat to topple him in October - prospects looked grim.
"We are urging both sides to exercise maximum restraint and put an
end to the violence," said P.J. Crowley, spokesman for the U.S. National
Anger Over Sharon Visit
The clashes were triggered by a visit last week by Ariel Sharon, leader of
Israel's hawkish Likud Party, to a contested Jerusalem shrine, known to
Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Al Haram Ash-Sharif, or Noble
The disputed hilltop was once the home of the biblical Jewish Temple,
the most scared shrine of Judaism. It now houses two major mosques that
mark the spot where tradition says the Prophet Muhammad ascended to
heaven. The walled compound is the third holiest site of Islam.
Palestinians said Sharon's visit was a provocation intended to assert
Israeli sovereignty over the site.
Sharon today denied he was responsible for the violence. "The riots
are part of Arafat's policy of applying pressure on Israel and the
Americans when he doesn't get what he wants," Sharon said, referring to
the Palestinian leader.
But many Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators traded accusations
instead of new ideas on how to solve their disputes.
In Tel Aviv, Israel's police minister, Shlomo Ben Ami, called for an
end to the violence before it destroys the peace process, and blamed
Palestinians for the riots.
"We have solid ground to believe that they were in great part
orchestrated from above," Ben Ami said. "Probably in the hope that a
certain degree of violence may serve a short-term political purpose."
But following an emergency meeting late Saturday, Palestinian leaders
called for the removal of Israeli troops from their cities and an apology
for what they are calling the murders of their people.
"They have all the responsibility about what's happened," said Abu
Ala, chair of the Palestinian Legislative Committee, following a
late-night emergency meeting. "They killed the Palestinians."
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also expressed anger.
"Those who call for a mutual cease-fire, I don't know what they're
talking about," he said. "We're not firing at the Israelis, we're not
killing the Israelis. The Israelis are the ones who are the soldiers who
are killing the Palestinians, who are ruining the Palestinians."
Unrest Inside Israel
Today's clashes also spread to Israeli Arab towns, including Nazareth. In
the town of Jesus' boyhood, hundreds of youngsters, many with their faces
masked, threw stones at Israeli police who fired a steady barrage of tear
gas and rubber-coated steel bullets.
The town's main road, which was blocked with burning tires and plumes
of black smoke, is near the Basilica of the Annunciation built on the spot
where tradition says the Angel Gabriel foretold Jesus' birth. Throughout
the West Bank, shops and schools were closed as Palestinians observed a
general strike for a second day. The strike spread to Arab Israeli
communities inside Israel in a show of solidarity.
Palestinian officials today confirmed two additional deaths from
Saturday's clashes. One of the dead was Jihad Aloul, 20, the son of
Mahmoud Aloul, the governor of Nablus.
In several tense areas, huge crowds gathered for today's funerals of
Palestinians. Mourners carried the coffins through packed streets, and
Palestinian gunmen fired into the air.
The gun battles were reminiscent of firefights in September 1996,
which also erupted because of a perceived Israeli infringement on the
Jerusalem mosque compound. At the time, Israel had opened an
archaeological tunnel along the shrine. Four years ago, 59 Palestinians,
16 Israelis and three Egyptians were killed.
ABCNEWS' Gillian Findlay and Linda Albin, and The Associated Press
contributed to this report.