Dozens of Palestinians wounded
February 12, 2001
PALESTINIANS SHOT DEAD AS SHARON SEEKS UNITY GOVT
By Deborah Camiel
JERUSALEM (Reuters - 12 February) - Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians
West Bank Monday as Israel's rightwing Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon sought
forge a unity government.
Sharon's right-wing Likud party was due to hold new talks with the center-left
party to try to forge a broad coalition to try to contain the violence.
But the latest killings underlined the challenges facing Sharon, who won a
crushing victory over outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak (news - web sites)
in elections last Tuesday.
Soldiers killed Ziad Abu Sway when they opened fire on a bus carrying
Palestinian laborers near the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Palestinian
witnesses and hospital sources said.
Atef Ahmed al-Nabulsi was shot dead near the West Bank city of Ramallah
and was taken by Israeli soldiers to a military base. Israeli security sources
confirmed Nabulsi had died.
The deaths followed the killing by Palestinian gunmen of Jewish settler Tsahi
Sasson, 35, as he drove along a road outside Jerusalem Sunday.
The death toll in more than four months of confrontation has risen to at least
321 Palestinians, 53 Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs.
The violence erupted in late September when peace talks reached deadlock
and Sharon visited a site in Jerusalem sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
Violence Overshadows Talks
Sharon, 72, has demanded that Palestinians end their protests against Israeli
occupation before peace talks resume, but some Palestinians have vowed to
step up their struggle.
``The Middle East region is on the verge of more violence and confrontation
and Sharon's criminal history represents only one episode of the bloodshed
and massacres,'' Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of the militant Islamic
organization Hamas, told Saudi Arabia's Arabic-language newspaper
Likud party lawmaker Moshe Arens told Israel Radio there would be no
negotiations as long as there was violence.
``Sharon says it clearly -- there will be no peace talks as long as there
violence,'' he said.
But Jibril Rajoub, a senior Palestinian security official, said it was up
Sharon to make reconciliatory moves such as lifting a blockade of Palestinian
``The Palestinian Authority has the capability and the desire to keep control
and it is not true that we have lost control in the field,'' Rajoub told Israel
``I think the ball is in the court of the government of Israel, which must
encourage the Palestinian Authority.''
Palestinian officials said they expected Israel to allow flights to resume
from Gaza International Airport for nine hours to allow Palestinian
pilgrims to travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Israel has overriding security responsibility for Gaza's only international
airport. It has closed it as part of the blockade, intended to stop guerrilla
attacks in Israel. But Palestinians view the shutdown as collective punishment
for the unrest.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat (news - web sites) has said he is keeping
a close eye on Sharon's coalition talks and will give the Israeli leader a
chance to prove he was serious about peace.
Arabs regard Sharon as a war criminal because he orchestrated Israel's 1982
invasion of Lebanon. Hundreds of Palestinian refugees were massacred in
Beirut by rightwing Lebanese gunmen backed by Israeli forces.
In Cairo, Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak discussed the future of the Middle East peace process following Sharon's
Presidential sources said Arafat was expected to meet visiting Spanish Prime
Minister Jose Maria Aznar later on Monday. Spain hosted the 1991 Madrid
peace conference which launched talks between Israel and four of its Arab
Coalition Talks To Resume
Sharon aide Eyal Arad said teams from Sharon's Likud and Barak's Labor
Party would resume their efforts to forge an alliance which some party
members believe is the best chance to pursue Middle East peacemaking.
Failing the formation of a government with Labor, Sharon would have to join
forces with extreme nationalist and religious parties likely to obstruct peace
He must form a government by a late March deadline or face a new election
for prime minister and parliament.
Arad said Sharon had emerged from coalition talks Sunday optimistic about
the chances of creating a left-right government and was weighing goodwill
gestures toward the Palestinians.
``Sharon is currently looking into various confidence- building measures
between Israel and the Palestinians in order to improve the atmosphere and
proceed toward peace,'' Arad said.
Labor's Shimon Peres, a former prime minister, told Israeli radio Sharon's
offer of two top ministerial portfolios was very serious and chances for a
unity government were ``50-50.''
Israeli media said Barak might yet agree to stay on as defense minister, a
Sharon has offered him, but Barak's office said he stood by his earlier
rejections of the post.
DOZENS OF PALESTINIANS WOUNDED IN FIERCE GUN BATTLE
[GAZA (Reuters - Monday, 12 February)] - Over 40 Palestinians were wounded
by bullets and shrapnel during a fierce gun-battle with Israeli troops in the
southern Gaza Strip on Monday, Palestinian hospital officials said.
Around 50 Palestinian gunmen holed up inside the Khan Younis refugee camp fought
a protracted battle with Israeli soldiers guarding the nearby Gush Katif settlement
The main battle lasted over six hours, but random exchanges of fire continued
late into the night.
Hundreds of Palestinians in the camp were forced to flee their homes during
the fighting and two houses caught fire. Palestinian witnesses said several
rifle-propelled grenades hit a mosque on the outskirts of the refugee camp.
The area has become a frequent flashpoint for violence since a Palestinian
uprising erupted in late September after peace talks became deadlocked. At
least 387 people, mostly Palestinians, have been killed in the unrest.
Palestinian hospital officials reported that 26 people were wounded by gunfire,
and 17 others were hit by shrapnel, adding that two of the wounded were in
Hospital officials said 69 other people were overcome by what they described
as a type of teargas that causes hysteria, and a dozen of them were admitted
``This was a type of gas that we had never seen before,'' a doctor at Khan
Younis's Nasser hospital told Reuters.
Television pictures taken at the hospital's emergency ward showed several people
lying on stretchers suffering from what appeared to be severe breathing difficulties,
and at least one was in convulsions.
The Israeli army dismissed the charge, saying it ``did not use any type of
gas whatsoever'' during the gun battle. It said soldiers set off smoke bombs
to cover their positions during the fighting. They also denied firing tank
or mortar shells.
A local Israeli commander said Palestinian gunmen had fired an anti-tank rocket
at an Israeli army post at the start of the fighting, but it fell short and
no one was hurt.
The head of a group of Palestinian gunmen who fought in the battle told Reuters
the Palestinian side used light and automatic weapons, but denied firing an
He said his men were trying to stop Israeli bulldozers from destroying farm-land
belonging to Al-Mawasi village, a community of about 8,000 people situated
several kilometers away on the other side of Gush Katif.