Tensions still high in West Bank, as accusations fly on both sides

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JERUSALEM — Israeli-Palestinian tensions in the West Bank town of Hebron remained high early this week, after more than a week of violent clashes there.

Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai accused the Palestinian Authority Sunday of failing to quell last week's riots and warned that continued unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would result in Palestinian casualties.

Scores of Palestinians were wounded in eight days of clashes with Israeli security forces along the boundary between the enclave of about 450 Jewish settlers and the Palestinian section of Hebron, home to some 100,000 Arabs.

Speaking during a tour of Hebron, which was quiet Sunday, Mordechai said the Palestinian leadership was not doing enough to calm the situation.

"I hope that the Palestinian Authority and other forces in the area will use their influence to prevent unnecessary confrontations which will cause casualties mainly on the Palestinian side," he said.

Israel handed over control of some 80 percent of Hebron to the Palestinians in January.

The Palestinian Cabinet issued a terse statement Friday of last week, charging that Israeli settlement activity had provoked the latest unrest.

"The arming of Jewish setters and the protection offered to them by Israeli soldiers while they continuously attack Palestinian landowners will not leave our masses any choice but to confront these aggressions using all available means," said the statement from the Palestinian Cabinet.

Tensions have escalated in the absence of ongoing peace talks, which broke off in mid-March after Israel began building a new Jewish neighborhood at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem, an area that Palestinians envision as part of their future capital.

Mordechai also visited the Jewish settlement of Morag in the Gaza Strip, where settlers and Palestinians had angry confrontations earlier this month over land ownership and boundaries. The defense minister pledged to try to resolve the problem.