Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash during funeral

Monday, July 29, 2002

HEBRON, West Bank -- Jewish settlers and Palestinians clashed Sunday during a funeral procession for a slain Israeli soldier in this volatile West Bank city, leaving a 14-year-old Palestinian girl dead and several Palestinians wounded, witnesses said.

Separately, in the West Bank town of Nablus, thousands of Palestinians defied the army's five-week curfew in the clearest sign yet that Israel cannot maintain its occupation of major Palestinian towns without facing popular resistance.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced a host of new measures designed to improve life in the territories and appointed his dovish foreign minister, Shimon Peres, in charge of aiding Palestinians.

The Palestinian finance minister and the No. 2 at the Israeli finance ministry also finalized details for Israel to transfer $15 million in withheld tax revenue to the Palestinians by Monday, both sides said.

Sunday's trouble in Hebron erupted as Jewish settlers carried the body of a soldier slain in an ambush Friday from the biblical Tomb of the Patriarchs, through the narrow streets of Hebron, to the cemetery.

The Palestinians, though confined to their homes by an army-imposed curfew, began throwing stones at the funeral procession, according to photographers at the scene.

The armed settlers responded by firing shots at Palestinian homes and using metal bars and stones to smash the windows of cars and homes in Hebron's Old City, residents said.

Shot in the head

Palestinian Nizin Jamjoum, 14, was standing on the balcony of her home when she was fatally shot in the head, said her brother Marwan, 26, who was injured. At least six Palestinians were hurt, doctors at the city's Alia Hospital said.

The injured included Ahmed Natcha, age 8, who was stabbed when a group of settlers broke into his home and smashed furniture, said the boy's father, Hussain Natcha. The boy was in stable condition.

The army said it was aware of only one injured Palestinian, and that he had received treatment from troops. The army said it was attempting to calm tensions in Hebron, where several hundred Jewish settlers live among more than 100,000 Palestinians.

However, several Palestinian witnesses said soldiers did little or nothing to stop the attacks by settlers even though they had warned Palestinian residents of possible violence.

"Before the funeral, the soldiers told us to stay in our homes and stay away from the windows, because they knew there was going to be trouble," said Dr. Tayser Zahadeh, a Palestinian who lives near the scene of the confrontation.

He said Israeli police only intervened after an hour of vandalism. Israeli media said 15 police officers were injured in scuffles with settlers.

The Israeli soldier buried Sunday, Elazar Leibovitz, was killed by Palestinian militants in a roadside ambush Friday near Hebron.

that also killed a Jewish couple, Yossi and Hana Dickstein, and one of their 10 children. With the orphans, who range in age from 2 to 20, in attendance, the three were buried Sunday in the West Bank settlement of Psagot where they lived.

In other developments Sunday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed an 18-year-old Palestinian as he watched an army incursion into Madra al-Sharqieh, east of Ramallah, Palestinian intelligence officials said. Israeli security sources said soldiers fired at two men who were throwing concrete blocks at them.

In Nablus, thousands of Palestinians defied the army's curfew in Nablus, filling markets and opening offices as Israeli soldiers stood by, residents said.

Some Western activists also took part, removing roadblocks from the city.

The protest was called by the Nablus city governor, Mahmoud Alol, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, which urged residents to repeat the demonstration.

"So many of our people are suffering from hunger and others couldn't get medicine so we have to get our rights by ourselves," Alol said.

The round-the-clock curfew in Nablus has only been lifted five times, for a few hours at a stretch, since Israeli troops reoccupied the city more than five weeks ago.

Amid the defiance, Sharon's office announced new measures to ease the plight of Palestinians, including increasing the number of permits issued to workers to come to Israel from 7,000 to 12,000. Before the conflict, some 125,000 Palestinians crossed into Israel daily for work.

Other measures include shortening the hours of the curfews, dismantling some roadblocks and lifting restrictions on aid groups in Palestinian areas, a statement from Sharon's office said.

Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayed met with the director-general of the Israeli Finance Ministry, Ohad Marani, to finalize the transfer of an initial part of the estimated $600 million in tax revenues Israel has withheld.

Meanwhile Peres met Qatar's foreign minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani, in Paris for talks on "practical steps" for renewing Middle East peace efforts, Peres' office said.

In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath visited Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of the radical Islamic Hamas organization, for what an aide to Shaath said was a visit to offer condolences for Israels's killing last week of Hamas military commander Salah Shehadeh.

Aides to Shaath and Yassin said political issues were discussed, but they refused to elaborate.

Shehadeh's death in an Israeli air strike that also killed 14 other Palestinians, nine of them children, came as Hamas and members of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, of which Shaath is an executive committee member, had reportedly been talking about coordinating a ceasfire with Israel.

Israeli soldiers arrested two local Hamas leaders in Ramallah, both sides said. One of the two had been the intended target of a tanke strike that instead killed his wife and three children in March. The army said the two had been involved in suicide bombings in March and May that killed 26 Israelis.

In the village of Burkin, southwest of Jenin, Israeli soldiers arrested three suspected members of the radical Islamic Jihad group, residents and Israeli security sources said.

Also in Burkin, Israeli forces destroyed an empty house that had been used as an Islamic Jihad hideout, residents said. And soldiers blew up two cars outside the home of a Hamas member arrested earlier this month, residents said. Security sources said the army destroyed a car after a militant in custody admitted to plans to use it to carry out a suicide bombing.

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