Upsurge of Violence in Territories May Reflect Palestinian Frustration
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Upsurge of Violence in Territories May Reflect Palestinian Frustration

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A wave of weekend violence in the administered territories, linked to a hunger strike by jailed Palestinians that may now have ended, has triggered fears in Israel that the intifada may be building new momentum.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who also holds the defense portfolio, said Sunday the army and security forces had received orders to use “every legally available means” to quell the disturbances, which included the murder of an Israeli civilian in the Gaza Strip.

Police were on maximum alert, especially in Jerusalem, for the Sukkot festival week.

Analysts link the heightened unrest to a sense of frustration over lack of progress in the first round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Washington since the Rabin government came to power.

The let-down is all the more acute when set against the generally upbeat assessment of the Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

The mass rioting Saturday in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip left dead a young Palestinian man who had been shot by soldiers in the West Bank village of Beita. And a member of the paramilitary border police was seriously injured in a riot in the Gaza Strip border town of Rafah.

On Sunday, a Jewish computer technician was bludgeoned to death with a hoe during a working visit to a settlement in the Gaza Strip. He was not immediately identified.

Arab sources say 80 Palestinians were hurt in the weekend disturbances. They included a young man who was shot from behind by a border policeman in East Jerusalem, in circumstances that have given rise to a controversy between the police and a journalist who witnessed the incident.

Police claim the man tried to snatch a weapon from a policeman. But news photographer Neora Ber-Nir of the left-wing magazine Zu Haderech said the man was lying on the ground when shot and was in no position to endanger the officer.

The shooting took place after the man picked up a tear-gas grenade fired by the police and threw it back at the policemen. He was arrested, but a milling crowd of Palestinian women sought to prevent his removal from the site by the police.

The riots erupted against the background of a 2-week-old hunger strike in the prisons, which may have ended Sunday night. Officials at the Police Ministry were quoted as saying that representatives of the prisoners had announced they were calling off the strike.

The hunger strike was ostensibly aimed at seeking better conditions in the jails. But prison officials termed the strike essentially political rather than a straightforward protest against conditions.

Some Israeli experts attribute the upsurge of unrest, both in the jails and on the streets, to the work of forces within the Palestinian nationalist movement who oppose the peace process.

Others link it to disappointment at gridlock in the negotiations, coupled with fear that Syria and Israel may be working out a separate deal — as Jerusalem and Cairo did in 1979 — that would again leave the Palestinians with a feeling of being left out in the cold.

The increased violence comes just weeks after the defense authorities let it be known they were considering major cuts in troops stationed in the territories, where the mass violence of the intifada seemed to have subsided.

Planned reductions in deployment would allow greater emphasis on training in the regular army and less annual duty for the reservists. Israeli media reports Sunday said these plans would now have to be reconsidered.

Meanwhile, weekend violence in southern Lebanon claimed one dead and several injured.

Positions in the Israeli-controlled border security zone came under mortar and small arms fire Sunday from fighters of the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah.

In the ensuing exchanges of fire with gunners of the Israel Defense Force and its allied South Lebanese Army, several Katyusha rockets were fired at an Israeli army post.

Prime Minister Rabin said the Hezbollah appeared to have stepped up its activities in the security zone in the wake of the gains it had registered during the recent elections in Lebanon.

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