JERUSALEM (Dec. 20)
A weekend of violence and vandalism in East Jerusalem, the worst since the Arab and Jewish sectors of the city were reunited 20 years ago, tapered off Sunday.
But the atmosphere was electric with tension. Shops and schools were closed and the potential for new outbursts remained high.
Heavily armed Israel Defense Force troops and border police patrolled the nearly deserted rain-sodden streets. They were littered with debris and shattered glass, testimony to two days of unprecedented violence during which Arab mobs attacked shops and businesses, including the East Jerusalem branches of Israeli banks, as well as a police station.
At least four police officers were injured in the unrest and some 60 Arabs were detained.
Sunday’s calm was only relative and due in part to winter storms that kept most people indoors. Banks reopened, but there were few customers.
Meanwhile, the West Bank and Gaza Strip bristled with unrest. Arab youths continued to erect roadblocks and used them as ramparts to hurl stones and gasoline bombs at Israeli vehicles.
MORE TROUBLE IN THE TERRITORIES
Some of the main trouble spots were the Askar and Fara refugee camps near Nablus, both under curfew. A Jewish woman was slightly injured by glass splinters when rocks struck the bus she was riding.
A Molotov cocktail was thrown at a border police patrol in Kabatiya in the Samaria district. An IDF officer fired at the attackers, wounding one who was hospitalized. Another gasoline bomb was thrown at an IDF patrol in Hebron, south of Jerusalem.
In Gaza, two local youths were wounded in clashes with security forces. A bus transporting Arab workers from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip to their jobs in Israel was set on fire.
But the violence that turned parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank into battlefields over most of the past 10 days was less of a shock than that which erupted in East Jerusalem.
The disturbances began Friday with a small demonstration on the Temple Mount after Moslem prayers. The protesters tried to approach Commerce and Industry Minister Ariel Sharon’s new residence in the Old City’s Moslem Quarter, but were dispersed by police.
Security officials sent reinforcements into East Jerusalem in anticipation of trouble Saturday. But they and Mayor Teddy Kollek later admitted they were taken by surprise by the scope of the disturbances.
Groups of youths erected barriers of stones, garbage cans and burning tires on the main streets. Saladin Street, the main artery of East Jerusalem, was impassable.
Mobs hurled rocks at the plate glass windows of the Bank Leumi branch. They broke into Barclay’s Discount Bank, smashing computers and littering the floor with torn checks and other papers. Police used tear gas against the rioters, but it dispersed them only temporarily.
POLICE STATION STORMED
One group of demonstrators, showing unusual daring, stormed the police station in the Al-Azaria neighborhood with rocks.
Security sources, who insist Palestinian nationalist elements are behind the disturbances, expect the unrest to continue at least until Jan. 1, the anniversary of the founding of Al-Fatah, the terrorist wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization. These elements are interested in keeping the violence alive, the sources said, in order to do maximum damage to Israel in the eyes of world opinion.
But Premier Yitzhak Shamir maintained that the wave of violence is almost over, in an interview published Sunday in Yediot Achronot.
The Cabinet met Sunday for its regular weekly session, but no official communique was issued. None was expected until after Foreign Minister Shimon Peres had returned from his visit to South America Sunday night.
Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was in the United States last week, were criticized by Likud ministers for not cutting their overseas visits short in view of events.