JERUSALEM, Oct. 3 (JTA) – The catalyst for a spate of violence heremay have been an Israeli politician’s visit to a Muslim and Jewish holy site, but Israeli officials are holding Palestinian leaders directly responsible for the bloodshed.
At least 55 people were killed, mostly Palestinians, in rioting that touched off Sept. 28 when Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Bloody riots on the Temple Mount spread to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and parts of Israel, where Israeli Arabs launched their own actions against Israel.
A brief cease-fire Tuesday abruptly ended with Palestinian and Israeli gunfire in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as the rioting continued.
Israel’s deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, said he believes the worst fighting is still ahead.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was hoping to defuse the crisis withe her scheduled meeting in Paris on Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
The general consensus in the Israeli government is that Arafat orchestrated the riots in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for his own political purposes.
In contrast, riots in Israel proper were seen as spontaneous and led by street gangs, with no clear guiding hands.
Acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami blamed the Palestinian Authority for the clashes, but stressed that one should not allow the tragic clashes to derail the peace process.
Although similar confrontations have occurred in the past, the riots that began just before the Rosh Hashanah holiday were unprecedented in their magnitude and in the use of arms.
Palestinian police opened fire on Israel Defense Force soldiers in Gaza, Ramallah and Nablus. The IDF responded with live fire, the use of gunships and missiles.
As the fighting intensified Monday, Israeli troops rolled out tanks.
An Israeli Jewish man was shot and killed on the road to the West Bank settlement of Ariel, reportedly when he stopped to change a tire.
The man, not immediately identified, was reportedly the first Jewish civilian killed in the clashes.
The White House said Sunday it would head an inquiry of Israeli and Palestinian security officials to determine who caused the violence. They won’t be able to meet, however, until the situation calms down.
The main points of confrontations in the territories were in the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip, the Beit-El junction near Ramallah and Joseph’s Tomb at the entrance to Nablus, a Palestinian town where a group of yeshiva students maintain a presence.
Israeli police officer Midhat Yussuf died in an exchange of fire in Nablus.
Anger heated up inside Israel proper, following the broadcast of pictures of Palestinian Mohammad al-Darrah, 12, who was shot to death at the Netzarim Junction during an exchange between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian policemen.
On Tuesday, Israel admitted that Israeli bullets killed the boy.
“This was a grave event, an event we are all sorry about,” said the Israeli army’s chief of operations.
Saturday’s shooting of the boy was captured by French television and shown throughout the world.
Inside Israel, rioters closed off traffic arteries in Arab towns – and even on a main street in downtown Jaffa, where a small community of 20,000 Arabs still lives. Arab youth confronted police with stones and bottles, and police reported some cases of the use of live firearms and Molotov cocktails.
Barak said the escalation among Israel’s Arabs was a “very serious development” and that the closing off of highways and disruption of everyday life inside Israel was “unacceptable.”
He urged the law enforcement agencies “to guarantee order.” Barak also called on the Israeli Arab public not to be dictated to by radical forces, and urged them to abide by the law.
Barak stopped short of criticizing Sharon for his visit to the Temple Mount, but one senior Israeli official told The New York Times, “It’s clear to everyone that it’s the Sharon show that created the original damage.”
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also criticized Sharon for his actions.
Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea wrote Sunday that it was true that Sharon ignited the match, but it was Arafat who provided the explosives.
“This was an impressive cooperation between the Likud and the Palestinian Authority, one might say the beginning of a wonderful friendship,” Barnea wrote.
Israeli columnist Ron Ben-Yishai wrote that Arafat had been searching for a development that would tilt world public opinion back toward him. Sharon provided that opportunity, he wrote.
Sharon, meanwhile, said he shares no responsibility for the violence.
“This has nothing to do with me,” Sharon told The Washington Post. “It’s the result of a pre-planned campaign by Arafat.”