Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mideast Fighting Intensifies Israel, Arafat Seek Agreement to Defuse Violence in Area

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mideast Fighting Intensifies Israel, Arafat Seek Agreement to Defuse Violence in Area

Article excerpt

Deadly Israeli-Palestinian fighting spread to one of Islam's holiest shrines and across the West Bank on Friday as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appealed for calm.

At U.S. urging, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Arafat on Friday reached the brink of an agreement to meet tonight to try to defuse the violence sweeping Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

But a senior Palestinian official said late Friday that Arafat would not meet with Netanyahu until the Israeli prime minister agrees to close a newly opened archaeological tunnel entrance near Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque. "We need progress, not meetings," Farouk Kaddoumi, the Palestinians' chief foreign affairs official, said after a debate in the U.N. Security Council on the violence. As the unrest raged for a third day and the death toll rose to 71 Friday, Netanyahu offered no apologies for opening the tunnel, accused Palestinian leaders of inciting the violence over a "nonissue" and warned that Israel would not negotiate a peace pact under threats. Struggling to control his people, Arafat appealed for calm and ordered the armed police under his command to use force, if necessary, to stop the rioting. His pleas were ignored in many areas, indicating that he may not be in complete control of his 30,000 men. But some Palestinian police dragged protesters away from Israeli positions in choke holds and marched them away at gunpoint. "Enough bloodshed; please listen to us," one of the officers pleaded. Many Palestinians are frustrated by the stalled peace process, seven months of economic hardships caused by Israel's border closure after suicide bombings in Israel, and Israel's decision to open the tunnel. Netanyahu called the tunnel a "nonissue" because, he said, Israel would always respect Muslim holy places. Seven Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers were killed Friday. Since the violence began, 57 Palestinians and 14 Israelis have died in some of the worst fighting since the 1967 Mideast War, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip. By nightfall Friday, the fighting had died down, and there were no more reports of clashes. The Jewish Sukkot holiday began at sundown. In the day's fiercest battle, Israeli helicopter gunships fired as rescue units tried to save ambushed soldiers at an isolated Israeli outpost in Gaza. Israeli tanks encircled Gaza, and streets in the West Bank were littered with stones. In Jerusalem, Israeli riot police stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam's third-holiest shrine, after hundreds of worshipers pelted them with stones. Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and - according to Palestinians - live rounds to disperse the crowd. Three Palestinian men were killed. Veiled women in full-length dresses ran for cover as gunfire echoed off the compound's stones for more than an hour. …

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