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October 2000 - Return to Complete Index                   MiddleEast.Org       10/07/00
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NABLUS, West Bank (AP, 7 Oct, by Jamie Tarabay) -- Israel on Saturday pulled its soldiers out of Joseph's Tomb, a tiny enclave that had come under steady fire from Palestinian gunmen for the past week. Within hours, Palestinian civilians -- some armed -- stormed the site, setting fires and trashing Hebrew texts and equipment left behind by the army.

In a sign that the violence was spreading, Israeli troops opened fire on hundreds of rock-throwing Lebanese protesters at the Israel-Lebanon border, killing one demonstrator and wounding 14, Lebanese officials said.

Soon after, Lebanese guerrillas fired rockets on Israeli positions at another part of the border. Lebanese security officials said three Israeli soldiers had been captured. The Israeli army had no immediate comment.

It was the bloodiest confrontation along the border since Israel ended its 18-year occupation of south Lebanon in May.

The pre-dawn evacuation of the tomb enclave in Nablus, ordered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, was the first time Israel relinquished territory as a direct result of Palestinian violence. One Israeli soldier was shot and wounded during the evacuation.

''We consider this a big victory,'' said Ali Farraj, a local Palestinian leader. ''It cost us a lot of blood, and we feel proud of this victory.'' Six Palestinians and an Israeli border policeman have been killed in a week of daily gunbattles at the site.

A top Barak adviser said that Joseph's Tomb was simply not worth holding any longer, and had become a liability. ''The question is, what interest did we ever have there,'' said Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh. ''There was never a political or military or settlement justification to stay in Joseph's Tomb. Over the years, the army has protected a small, marginal group that wanted to use this site as a foothold for settlement in Nablus, that is the honest truth.''

Still, Barak government ministers were clearly furious with Arafat for failing to protect the site.

''You can't have war and peace at the same time,'' said Regional Planning Minister Shimon Peres, a former prime minister who helped launch the peace process seven years ago. ''If he wants war, it's another ball game. if he wants peace, he has to reach conclusions.''

An Israeli border policeman bled to death inside the compound last weekend, after Palestinian gunmen barred Israeli medics from reaching the compound for several hours.

Violence across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, sparked by a visit by hard-line opposition leader Ariel Sharon to a Jerusalem shrine holy to Muslims and Jews, has so far claimed 80 lives, most Palestinian. Two Palestinians died early Saturday of injuries sustained in clashes with Israeli soldiers on Friday.

In announcing the tomb evacuation, the army said Palestinian authorities promised to protect the site, which is also home to a Jewish seminary where about 30 students studied during the day. The students have been barred from the site since gun battles began last weekend.

In the tomb area, Palestinian leaders issued calls over megaphones Saturday, urging the civilians to leave. They went unheeded.

Giggling children emerged from the site wearing hats and flak jackets that had been left behind. One group set fire to one of the shacks in the compound and in the domed tomb. Palestinian firefighters doused the flames. Palestinian teen-agers climbed atop the tomb and hit it with hammers.
Others ripped apart Hebrew texts. It was unclear if the books were holy writings, but the army acknowledged that the troops had left some sacred Hebrew texts behind.

Some Jews believe the site is the tomb of the biblical patriarch, although most archaeologists ridicule that claim. Some Israelis have denounced Joseph's Tomb as a superfluous provocation.

The trashing of the compound was likely to contribute to Barak's increasing political isolation, and make it harder for him to negotiate a peace deal. Barak was weakened politically by far-reaching proposals he made to Palestinians at the U.S.-sponsored talks at Camp David, in July.

''This is an embarrassing capitulation of the prime minister,'' said Danny Naveh, a legislator with the opposition Likud party. ''It is a surrender to Palestinian violence, and the state of Israel will pay a heavy price for it.''

Clashes continued Saturday. In Hebron, the site of another tiny Jewish enclave, troops faced down stone-throwers with rubber bullets, injuring five.
The withdrawal could help create the conditions that would allow Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to order an end to the violence. In its statement, the army said ''both sides are committed to save lives and reduce tensions'' now that the evacuation has been undertaken.

In Madrid, where he was attending a conference, Arafat described the evacuation as '''a good step.''

A Palestinian spokeswoman said the hope was that the evacuation signaled a new Israeli approach -- one that could lead to the resumption of peace talks.

''I think that this should be a first step in pulling out all the Israeli outposts and hopefully all settlements in order not to maintain a situation of constant violence and volatility,'' Hanan Ashrawi told CNN.

             Hezbollah captures Israeli soldiers on Lebanon border
                           By ABDEL MAWLA KHALED

 SIDON, Lebanon, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- The Hezbollah movement, which forced
Israeli pullout from south Lebanon last May, confirmed Saturday that its
guerrillas captured a number of Israeli soldiers on the border between the
two countries and took them to a "safe area."

 A Hezbollah statement said the guerrillas attacked several Israeli
positions in the Shabaa farms, a   disputed area which was not evacuated by
Israel when it pulled its troops from south Lebanon on May 24, ending 22
years of occupation.

 "They captured many Zionist soldiers and succeeded in evacuating them from
the area of operations to a safe place," said the statement, which did not
disclose the number of the seized soldiers.  Well-informed security sources
said three or four Israeli servicemen were captured and apparently taken to

 The Hezbollah statement said the group "offers this operation to all
Jerusalem martyrs," including the 12-year old Palestinian boy, Mohammed
Durra, who was killed in his father's embrace by Israeli soldiers in Gaza
last Saturday.

 The statement said it also came "to fulfill Hezbollah promises to liberate
all (Lebanese) detainees, every inch of occupied Lebanese territories and to
show solidarity with the Palestinian people." It pledged to continue the
"Jihad" (armed struggle) until the liberation of Jerusalem.

 Earlier, Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas exchanged fire across the
Lebanese-Israeli border in a first such and most dangerous incident since
the Israeli withdrawal.

 Security sources reported "fierce clashes" between the two parties in the
border area of the Shabaa farms.

 Israeli forces fired shells on the Lebanese side of the Shabaa farms and
the outskirts of the village of Kfar Shouba.  Hezbollah guerrillas fired
mortars, Katyusha rockets and rocket-propelled grenades at Israeli posts in

 The sources said Hezbollah-Israeli clashes continued "with all kind of
weapons" and Lebanese inhabitants of Shabaa sought refuge in basements and

 The clashes followed the killing earlier Saturday of at least two
Palestinian demonstrators and the injury of 20 others by Israeli fire on the
Lebanese-Israeli border. The nearly 1,800 Palestinian demonstrators, who
came from various refugee camps in Beirut and south Lebanon, were protesting
the Israeli "massacres" against the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza

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