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Barak threatens to use tanks to stop Palestinian uprising

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  • Djehuti Sundaka
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    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 2, 2000
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      Barak threatens to use tanks to stop Palestinian uprising

      An Israeli police officer aims his gun towards Israeli Arab protestors in the northern city of Nazereth on Sunday  

      JERUSALEM-- As Israel and Palestinian officials worked to quell ongoing violence in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak threatened Monday to send in more tanks and troops.

      "The soldiers and our officers were instructed to use any method to protect the citizens of Israel," he told Israel Radio.

      Barak, at a morning Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, insisted that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat had the power to end the bloody, four-day outbreak, during which at least 30 people have been killed.

      Both sides called on the other over the weekend to end the spiraling unrest.

      Barak said the Palestinians had failed to curb their own police force, which has exchanged gunfire with Israeli troops during rioting. There was no immediate reply from Arafat.

      "...and therefore, unfortunately, we know that all the Palestinian casualties were caused as a result of the positions and the behavior of the Authority," Barak told Israel Radio.

      The latest victim, a 25-year-old Israeli man, was shot and killed Monday morning near a West Bank village. Police were investigating the circumstances of his death.

      Concerned over the escalating violence, the White House announced Sunday it was convening a meeting in the region with security officials from both sides to try to detail what had happened in recent days and what could be done to prevent a recurrence in the future.

      Officials fear the area's worst violence in four years could upset fragile peace talks.

      National Security Council spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting would take place "once the situation calms down." Arafat and Barak endorsed the meeting after speaking over the weekend with U.S. President Bill Clinton.

      Dead include 27 Palestinians

      On Sunday, Israeli troops battled protesters, sometimes using helicopter gunships and tanks in the West Bank and Gaza in clashes that left nine Palestinians dead.

      Perched on rooftops and in abandoned buildings, Palestinian gunmen traded shots with Israeli troops as rioters cheered them on.

      The death toll from the clashes so far includes 27 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier. More than 700 Palestinians have been injured, many after being shot by rubber-coated bullets fired by Israelis troops.

      Arab League urges U.N. investigation

      As the causalities mounted, the Arab League emerged Sunday from an emergency meeting and urged the U.N. Security Council to conduct an international investigation into "crimes against the Palestinian people and try the responsible Israelis before the International Criminal Court."

      Arab leaders such as King Abdullah II of Jordan and Foreign Minister Amr Moussa of Egypt warned the bloodshed was wrecking the peace process.

      Palestinians and Israelis continued to trade accusations about the root causes of the violence.

      Nobody disagrees that the clashes followed a visit last Thursday by Israel's hawkish opposition leader Ariel Sharon to a contested Jerusalem shrine. The site is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Al Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.

      It is home to Judaism's holiest site, the Western Wall of the biblical Temple, and two mosques -- Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock -- that mark the spot where tradition has it that the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.

      Palestinians said Sharon's visit -- and his accompanying police security detail, thousands strong -- was a provocation. The dispute over who will control the compound has become a major obstacle to a peace agreement.

      Palestinians throw stones at an Israeli army post at the Netzarim Jewish settlement crossing in Gaza  

      Barak, during recent peace talks, had broken a long-standing taboo by offering the Palestinians shared control of the site. But Sharon's visit was perceived as a demonstration of Israel's continued claim over the site.

      The United States said Sharon's visit was not "helpful" to the peace process.

      Deadliest battle over Joseph's Tomb

      Sunday's deadliest battle was waged over Joseph's Tomb in Nablus on the West Bank, a tiny Israeli-controlled enclave smaller than a city block and ringed by a cement block wall and barbed wire. The shrine was retained by Israel after it withdrew its troops from the city and other Palestinian towns in 1995.

      On Sunday, 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 some Jews believe the biblical patriarch Joseph is buried.

      "This is a holy struggle," said Mahmoud Jamal, a Palestinian demonstrator who was injured in the face as he and others tried to break down the gate of Joseph's Tomb.

      At one point, according to the Associated Press, 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 a wounded Israeli officer, who was taken to safety sometime after nightfall.

      However, the Israeli army told CNN the combat helicopters were shooting flares to disperse crowds of Palestinian protesters.

      In addition to Nablus, firefights 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 Gaza.

      On the outskirts of Ramallah, Israeli troops commandeered a luxury hotel, with Israeli snipers firing from the rooftop and the ground floor dining hall at Palestinian gunmen taking cover in abandoned buildings and behind cars.

      Dozens of guests and journalists were trapped in the lobby of the New City Inn as the steady staccato of gunfire was heard outside.

      Near Netzarim, scores of gunmen, cheered on by hundreds of Palestinian rock-throwers, took aim at a fortress-like Israeli outpost. One gunman knelt behind a low wall as he fired his M-16 assault rifle. A 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 in a lull to drag him away. The victim's white shirt was bloodied in the back, and his head lolled back and forth.

      The gunbattles 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. In the 1996 fighting, 59 Palestinians, 16 Israelis and three Egyptians were killed.

      Sides disagree on causes of violence

      The chief Israeli negotiator, acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, said the Palestinian Authority is orchestrating the violence to exert pressure on Israel and extract concessions in the negotiations.

      His Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qureia, said Israel was intensifying the violence and was "committing crimes against our defenseless people."

      A Palestinian woman helps a man wounded by a gunshot on Sunday in Jerusalem  

      Sharon 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 on Sunday.

      U.S. diplomats were working frantically with both sides to try to rescue the negotiations, but with time already running short -- Barak faces an opposition threat to topple him in October -- prospects looked grim.

      U.S. officials have also been in touch with the leadership of the Israeli and Palestinian security forces, according to Crowley.

      "We are working very intensively with (both sides), encouraging them to exercise maximum restraint, to do everything they can to put an end to the violence," Crowley said. "We have to get the violence stopped," he said.

      U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright talked with Arafat and Ben-Ami on Friday, a State Department spokesman said.

      The secretary spoke again with Ben-Ami on Saturday, said the spokesman. Albright is in Paris for the U.S.-European Union summit.

      CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna, CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel, White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

      For more stories from CNN.com, click here.

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