More clashes but less blood in Palestine
Palestine, Politics, 5/15/1998
Israel took extra precautionary measures and put more troops on alert to crush further rounds of unrest that were expected after Friday prayers today. Large numbers of Israeli army forces were deployed in the Palestinian territories with the objective of quelling potential demonstrators on Friday.
Israeli tanks took positions in a number of cities in a show of force and a message that the Israeli might not hesitate to break into the Palestinian cities if clashes between the two sides deteriorate to firearms use. But the close to two thousand Israeli policemen who were rushed to East Jerusalem did not prevent dozens of Palestinian youths from throwing stones at Israeli troops and Jewish worshipers next to the Western Wall.
The incident took place immediately after the Friday prayers, which over 20,000 Palestinians attended in the Al Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. Israeli police said at least four policemen were injured, including Major General Yair Yitzhaki, commander of Jerusalem police force. He was injured in his hand. A few months ago, Yitzhaki broke his arm during scuffling between Israeli police and ultra orthodox Jews. The police said all Jewish worshipers who were evacuated from the Western Wall plaza into the narrow alleyways of the Old City's Jewish Quarter were allowed back to continue their prayer after Islamic Waqf officials managed to calm the situation and pushed the stone throwers away from the area.
Yitzhaki considered sending his forces to storm the Mosque area but later backed away following warnings by Waqf officials who said such a move would increase the number of Palestinian victims and spill more blood. He later told Israel radio he agreed to give a chance to the Waqf officials who finally managed to put an end to the stoning.
Fiercer clashes took place in the city of Hebron where Israeli soldiers used rubber-cased metal bullets to disperse Palestinian stone throwers. An Israeli press photographer was shot and injured with a rubber bullet and was rushed to the hospital in West Jerusalem. Israeli military sources claimed the photographer stood somewhere between the Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli soldiers and was caught in the line of fire. "A soldier opened fire and shot a rubber bullet and suddenly the photographer changed his place and got injured," Israeli military sources said. Eyewitnesses, however, refuted those allegations and said the photographer was hiding next to a car some five meters away from the Palestinian demonstrators. "He couldn't have been shot unless if he just jumped out of his hiding towards the rubber bullet and this is nonsense. The Israeli army wants to suggest that it was his fault who dashed through the bullet's range," a Palestinian eyewitness said. Palestinian police forces later on took over positions close to the confrontation lines between the demonstrators and Israeli troops in the so-called Jewish quarter of the city where some 400 Jewish settlers still live. They kept stone throwers away and contributed to calming the situation, said a foreign volunteer working with the temporary international observers in Hebron, TIPH.
Palestinian Arabs in Israel itself marked the May 15 anniversary on Friday in two major marches that headed towards the deserted Arab village of Safourya in the Galilee. Organizers of the protest marches and the Israeli police agreed to maintain quiet and calm provided the Israeli police kept away from the site of the protest. Any close encounter between the two sides is likely to blow up the situation and all was done to prevent further bloodshed, one of the organizers said in a telephone conversation.
Israeli military sources admitted they did not expect the unrest in East Jerusalem to be as violent as it was on Thursday but blamed the Palestinian government for initiating the demonstrations in an expression of discontent over the stalled peace process in the region. But Palestinian official sources said the Palestinian government should not be blamed for the renewed wave of violence. "The Israeli government and the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are to blame for the current impasse in the peace process, which in itself had pushed the masses to the streets to express their anger," the sources said.
The Palestinian leadership appealed to the international community to intervene and impose order. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said the Nakba events on Thursday were a clear message from the Palestinian people to the Israeli government, telling it that it should act logically, and not oppose the path of peace. Arafat spoke at a Palestine council meeting in Ramallah on Thursday evening. Arafat is due to arrive in Amman on Saturday to meet with King Hussein of Jordan and discuss with him the latest rounds of clashes with Israeli troops as well as the US efforts to convene a three-way summit in Washington next week to revive the stalled peace process.
The Palestinian government accused Israel of perpetrating "another massacre" against the Palestinians and minister of information, Yasser Abed Rabbo, accused the Israeli army with firing indiscriminately into Palestinian demonstrators. Other Palestinian spokesmen, as well as medical sources in a number of hospital, said the wounded Palestinians who were admitted to hospitals had suffered from bullet injuries in the upper part of their body, thus refuting Israeli allegations that the soldiers were firing towards the demonstrators' legs.
Inside Israel itself, there seemed to be friction between senior military officers with regard to their assessment of the Palestinian government role in the bloody clashes of Thursday. The Israeli army troops commander in the West Bank said the Palestinian police and security forces failed to contain the demonstrators. His counterpart in Gaza, meanwhile, praised the behavior of the Palestinian policemen. He reported that the Palestinian police made real efforts to gain control of the demonstrators, and to calm down passions, albeit without total success.
The bloody clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Thursday and, to a lesser extent, Friday, had beclouded Netanyahu's visit and talks in Washington. When reports on the clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian demonstrators reached Netanyahu, he made every effort to make it clear that he would not be ready for any compromise with the Palestinian government over the disputed issue of the Israeli army second phase redeployment which figured prominently in the world media and clouded Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit to Washington. "If the events are aimed at imposing pressure on us during the negotiations for the second phase, they won't have a chance," said Netanyahu. "The riots achieved the opposite effect. They won't influence us."
US officials were reportedly shocked about how Netanyahu did not express regret at the loss of Palestinian lives in Thursday clashes. The officials said the US Administration believed Israel ought to show restraint in its handling of demonstrators. "As much as possible, the use of lethal force against demonstrators should be avoided," said the spokesman of the State Department. stated yesterday. The Americans emphasize that the violent events in the territories underscore the need to reach decisions as soon as possible -- they reject Netanyahu's position that time isn't an important factor in the process.
In an official statement, the US government expressed "sorrow about the outbreak of violence in the West Bank, as result of which eight Palestinians have died, including two children, and hundreds were injured. We are truly sorry for the casualties, and express our condolences to their families."
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