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Fatal Clashes Erupt in Hebron After Jewish Students Kill Arab

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Another round of deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted this week, as discussions centered in Washington offered little hope for a resumption soon of the two sides’ suspended negotiations.

In the worst violence of almost daily demonstrations in the West Bank during the past three weeks, two Palestinians were killed and more than 100 wounded in clashes Tuesday with Israeli troops in Hebron. Five Israeli border police and Israel Defense Force troops were lightly wounded.

The clashes were sparked by the death of another Arab in Hebron earlier in the day, when two Jewish seminary students opened fire.

Jewish settler leaders said the two students, who were detained by police, had opened fire in self-defense, after they were pelted with stones and tear gas.

The two students were released from custody Wednesday, and police said it appeared that they had acted in self-defense. Police were still examining whether the students were in a life-threatening situation.

Palestinians said the attack was unprovoked and that the two opened fire as they walked toward the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

A police official said the two had suffered tear-gas burns on their faces.

Palestinian police identified the dead man as Assam Arafeh. Hospital officials said he had died of a bullet wound in the chest.

President Clinton, who met a day before with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an apparently unsuccessful effort to resolve the crisis in Israeli- Palestinian relations, called the incident “troubling” and said that it should not “get in the way of moving the path toward peace forward.”

In the wake of the clashes, the IDF clamped a curfew on the center of Hebron, where the attack took place, and sent border police and troop reinforcements into the city to restore order.

Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat denounced the violence and forwarded a complaint to Washington via Palestinian officials, who were scheduled to meet with Clinton administration officials later in the week.

Violence continued Wednesday in Hebron as Israeli soldiers wounded some 30 Palestinians in clashes. An Israeli border police officer and a photographer were also hurt.

In another development, a Jerusalem court extended the detention of a Jewish settler who opened fire and wounded two Palestinian youths earlier this week in the village of Harbata after his car was stoned.

Witnesses claimed that the man, identified as Yossi Levy of the Dolev settlement, had stopped his car and began firing at the youths, who were not involved in stone-throwing.

Israel’s decision to start building at Har Homa in eastern Jerusalem three weeks ago has sparked violent protests by Palestinians on a near-daily basis.

The Palestinian Authority has condemned the Har Homa project as an attempt by Israel to determine unilaterally the future of Jerusalem, an issue reserved for the final-status discussions.

Netanyahu in turn has rejected the Palestinian demands for a halt to all construction activity as a precondition for resuming security cooperation with Israel as “extortion.”

In the wake of the decision to build at Har Homa, Palestinian officials said they would suspend sharing intelligence information with Israeli security.

Despite continued Israeli demands that Arafat crack down on terror and violence, Israeli security officials said this week that the Palestinian Authority is still not taking any steps to dismantle the infrastructure of Islamic militant groups in the self-rule areas.

The head of the IDF intelligence branch, Maj. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Palestinian security forces had made efforts to prevent violence when there are specific warnings about a pending attack.

But he said Wednesday that the Palestinian Authority had not moved to prevent militant groups from obtaining weapons and organizing.

Ya’alon also said Arafat had not made any effort to convey to the militants that they could not carry out attacks against Israel.

He added that the Palestinian Authority was still using violence and terrorist attacks to achieve political objectives.

Ya’alon disclosed that Palestinian security forces had arrested a number of people suspected of involvement in planning two unsuccessful suicide bombings against Jewish settlements in Gaza earlier this month, but it was unclear whether they had been tried.

The military arm of the Islamic Jihad had issued a statement claiming responsibility for the April 1 attacks, in which two suicide bombers blew themselves up. No Israelis were injured in the blasts.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said there was a “reasonable” level of cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces in different areas of the territories.

But he, too, said the self-rule authority was not taking any measures against terrorist activities.

Mordechai, who met with senior security officials Wednesday to discuss the situation in the territories, said that despite ongoing security warnings of possible terrorist attacks, he had decided on a further easing of a closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip for humanitarian purposes.

Israel sealed off the territories last month after a Hamas suicide bomber killed three Israelis March 21 at a Tel Aviv cafe.

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