Unrest simmers in the wake of bloody West Bank clashes

The soldiers responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. By early afternoon, Palestinian sources said, nine Arab demonstrators were wounded, one of them seriously. Israeli sources said six Palestinians were wounded.

Military sources said they had hoped to restore free access to the territories in the wake of the sharp decline in violence on Saturday. But Palestinian police officials refused to resume joint security patrols in Bethlehem, Nablus and Ramallah.

As a result, the IDF banned Israelis from entering these cities.

Palestinian Authority officials continued to blame Israel for the casualties sustained during last Thursday's clashes between the IDF and Palestinians.

"It is clear that there was a murderous crime by the Israeli army against Palestinian demonstrators," Palestinian Authority International Cooperation Minister Nabil Sha'ath said.

Palestinian officials insisted that nine Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops but could only identify five.

That count, however, was disputed by other Palestinians. Sufian Abu Zeideh, a Palestinian Authority official, said four Gazans were killed on Thursday and one Fatah activist from the Kalandia refugee camp died from his wounds on Friday.

The violence erupted on Thursday of last week as Palestinians commemorated what they call "al-nakba," Arabic for "the catastrophe" caused by the creation of the Jewish state on May 14, 1948.

During the "march of the million" commemoration, which was held throughout the West Bank and Gaza strip, demonstrators ignored appeals by the Palestinian Authority and attacked IDF soldiers.

Palestinian Authority Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo blamed the "massacre" on the Israeli government, saying troops shot wildly at peaceful Palestinian demonstrators.

But Palestinian and Israeli eyewitnesses asserted that the clashes began when Palestinians left the planned route of the march and attacked IDF positions.

It was the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence since September 1996, when clashes erupted after Israel opened a new entrance to an archaeological tunnel in Jerusalem's Old City. Fifteen Israelis and 61 Palestinians were killed during three days of rioting.

Reacting to the clashes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in the United States for peace talks, pinned the blame on the Palestinian Authority for stirring up hostility to Israel.

"It's easy to whip up a frenzy of bloodshed and violence," he said.

Speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Netanyahu said the Palestinians "must understand that agreements cannot be hostages to violence. It puts the Palestinian cause behind."

In a subsequent appearance on Capitol Hill, where he was the guest of the foreign relations committees of the Senate and House of Representatives, he again referred to the clashes, saying, "This is not the way. We cannot tolerate a situation in which violence erupts whenever there are points of difference" in the negotiating process.

Netanyahu made no reference to the fact that life was lost.

Despite Palestinian Authority assurances that the planned march would be peaceful, the IDF had beefed up forces throughout the territories in anticipation of attacks. Palestinian sources said that soon after the march began, young demonstrators began streaming to the IDF checkpoints throughout the Gaza Strip.

Hundreds began to throw stones and firebombs and tried to climb the fences surrounding Jewish settlements. Troops responded with rubber and plastic bullets and tear gas.

In some cases, Palestinian policemen were overwhelmed by thousands of demonstrators, who swept past them toward the troops. At one point, a Palestinian grabbed a policeman's automatic weapon and began firing at an IDF position.

The most severe rioting was at the Erez roadblock, where Palestinians mobbed a police position and headed for the nearby IDF checkpoint. The troops lobbed tear gas, but soon resorted to live fire to disperse the crowd.

Palestinian sources said at least three people were killed and about 75 wounded in that clash.

Israeli army commanders said except for emergency situations their troops employed rubber and plastic bullets in the Gaza Strip and that no live ammunition was used in the West Bank.