Violence rises as Palestinians mourn Israel’s founding


JERUSALEM, May 16 (JTA) – Israeli-Palestinian violence shows no signs of abating, despite repeated international calls for a cease-fire.

In a week filled with violence, the worst came on Tuesday, when thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to mark “Al Nakba” – Arabic for “the catastrophe,” the Palestinian term for the creation of the State of Israel.

Continuing a trend of recent years, Israel’s Arab population also marked the day.

Capping a day filled with demonstrations and violence, a Palestinian gunman shot and killed a 28-year-old Israeli woman and wounded her father in a car ambush near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Traveling to a wedding in Jerusalem, the woman was shot in the neck and failed to regain consciousness, despite attempts by medics at the scene to revive her.

Earlier Tuesday, at least four Palestinians were killed and more than 100 wounded in widespread clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Among the casualties was a bodyguard for Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, killed by Israeli tank fire after taking part in a mortar attack launched from Gaza on a kibbutz in Israel. No one was hurt in the Palestinian attack.

During Tuesday’s demonstrations, Palestinians stood in silence when a noontime siren sounded in Gaza and the West Bank.

In a prerecorded message broadcast on Palestinian media while he was spending the day in Egypt, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat said there would be no peace or stability unless Israel withdrew all troops and settlers to the borders that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War – and unless Israel accepted the “right” of millions of Palestinians to return to homes they fled in Israel during the 1948 war.

Israeli officials said Arafat left for Egypt to avoid being blamed for the Nakba Day violence.

In other violence Tuesday, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a police checkpoint in Hebron and an Israeli army base near Ramallah.

Nor did the violence subside the following day.

Early Wednesday morning, a mortar fired by Palestinian gunmen penetrated a house in the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom in Gaza. It exploded in the bathroom, but caused no injury to family members sleeping in adjacent bedrooms.

Later Wednesday, a 14-year-old Palestinian was shot and killed during clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in Gaza. Two other Palestinians were wounded in the fighting.

In another incident, a small bomb in a plastic bag went off outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, but no one was hurt.

The days leading up to the Nakba demonstrations were also filled with violence.

On Monday, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo from a nearby West Bank village, injuring four Israelis. Israeli tanks and troops returned the heavy Palestinian fire.

In Gaza, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians after a grenade attack.

Also on Monday, a large bomb was discovered on the main street in the Israeli city of Petach Tikva. The device, found in a bag at a bus stop, exploded while a bomb disposal unit was trying to neutralize it. The explosion damaged surrounding stores but caused no injuries.

There also was violence along Israel’s northern border Monday, when Hezbollah gunmen fired two anti-tank rockets at an Israeli army outpost in the Shabaa Farms region on the border, damaging the post but causing no injuries. Lebanese witnesses said Israel shelled territory in southern Lebanon in retaliation.

On Sunday night, Israeli troops killed five Palestinian security officers near Ramallah after detecting what the Israel Defense Force termed “suspicious activity.”

The Palestinian Authority denied the five were involved in hostile actions and demanded an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council to address the Israeli action.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported Tuesday that Israel did not know the identities of the Palestinian officers, but said the operation was a response to recent shooting attacks from the area where they were stationed.

Israeli officials intended the operation as a signal to the Palestinian Authority that all its security forces are vulnerable if their positions are used to attack Israeli targets, Ha’aretz reported.

Also on Sunday night, Israeli air and naval forces bombarded Palestinian security targets in Gaza, destroying a number of buildings and several armored personnel carriers. Israel said the operation came in retaliation for Palestinian mortar attacks.

This week’s violence spilled over from the weekend.

On Saturday, Israeli army helicopters fired on a car in which members of the Palestinians’ Tanzim militia were traveling in the West Bank city of Jenin.

One passenger was killed. Palestinian sources said a Palestinian police officer who was standing nearby also was killed and 17 Palestinians were wounded.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the continued violence “very disturbing.”

“The cycle of violence continues to go upward,” Powell told CNN on Monday. “We keep appealing to both sides to be restrained, to not use violence as a way of solving the problems that exist in the region.”

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