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Both unrest and diplomacy cap a most volatile week in Israel

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JERUSALEM, March 27 (JTA) — Israel’s most volatile week to date this year has ended amid an atmosphere of continued unrest and diplomacy. As U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross held talks aimed at defusing the tensions, Palestinian demonstrations spread to the West Bank town of Ramallah. Hundreds of Palestinians burned tires and threw stones as Israeli soldiers and Palestinian police worked to calm the situation. Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai boosted forces in the West Bank and ordered tanks to be stationed around Palestinian towns in the event of an escalation of violence. Thursday’s clashes marked the eighth day of clashes, which were sparked by the start of construction of a new Jewish neighborhood on the southeastern boundary of Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim that the move alters the status quo of the city, whose future is to be determined in final-status negotiations. Security forces were on heightened alert in anticipation of Land Day demonstrations Sunday, when Arab Israelis have traditionally protested what they view as land expropriations by Israel. Israeli security officials said that while they expected Arab Israeli demonstrations to be peaceful, it was unclear whether the Palestinians would use the day to create further unrest. President Clinton dispatched Ross to the region this week, saying that he was concerned about the deterioration of relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and the evolution of a “very dangerous” situation. Ross met for two hours Thursday in Rabat, Morocco, with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat. Neither one spoke after the talks, but in Washington, Clinton told reporters that Ross was “encouraged by the response of Chairman Arafat.” Officials in Washington had said the U.S. envoy would make clear to Arafat that he must take an unequivocal stand against terror, and show his commitment to fight it. This comes against the backdrop of last week’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, for which Israel had blamed the Palestinian Authority, saying that it gave Islamic militant groups the green light to carry out attacks in light of the political impasse. From Morocco, Ross flew to Israel, where he was scheduled to hold a late-night meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two were due to meet again Friday, along with Foreign Minister David Levy and Defense Minister Mordechai. Ross was scheduled to return to Washington on Friday night. Officials said Ross was also carrying a message for Netanyahu, stressing that it was up to both Israel and the Palestinians to stop the violence and get the political process back on track. The message also asked Israel to halt its construction at Har Homa, according to a U.S. official. Meanwhile, Levy on Thursday accused the Palestinian Authority leader of using the Palestinian public and Arab states to isolate Israel. He said Har Homa was just an excuse to create a crisis. Levy met Thursday with the European Union envoy to the Middle East, Miguel Angel Moratinos.

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