By LAURA KING
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Fierce fighting erupted Wednesday in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Israeli troops firing missiles after an isolated army outpost came under Palestinian gunfire.
Seven Palestinians died Wednesday, including a 13-year-old boy killed by Israeli fire in fighting at Netzarim Junction in central Gaza, scene of some of the worst clashes in a week-long spasm of violence. In all, the fighting has left 64 people dead and more than 1,800 injured, most of them Palestinians.
Israel agreed to pull forces back from West Bank positions in an attempt to end the violence, according to Israeli officials at a summit meeting in Paris between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, mediated by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
In the northern West Bank town of Tulkarem, a 22-year-old Palestinian man was shot dead in a protracted firefight. In the divided town of Hebron, a 19-year-old Palestinian died in one of several exchanges of fire between a hilltop in the Palestinian sector and the Israeli-controlled downtown sector below, where the army imposed a curfew on some 30,000 Palestinian residents.
The violence also crept closer to Jerusalem. Palestinians shot at four homes in the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo on the southern edge of the city, close to Bethlehem, police said. There were no injuries.
At the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, onlookers said army helicopters shot five rockets at buildings near the army outpost, and that live bullets were fired into a stone-throwing crowd. Hundreds of terrified protesters flung themselves flat on the ground.
“I was very scared,” said 18-year-old Hanan el-Habiba. “I couldn’t see because of the dust, or hear because of the big roar of the missiles.”
Thirteen-year-old Muhammad Abu-Asy was running from the helicopter when he was shot and killed, said Palestinian medic Yasser Ashour, adding that it was not clear whether the fire came from the gunship or the army post. The medic said the boy was dead by the time he reached him, and that he and his colleague were struck by rubber bullets when they tried to lift the boy’s body into the ambulance.
When one man was wounded by a bullet or shrapnel while lying flat, fellow protesters, trying to keep as low to the ground as they could, dragged and pushed him 300 yards to an ambulance, passing him from one person to the next.
The army said the rockets were aimed at a Palestinian police post, which it said was the source of massive firing.
In the West Bank, gun battles broke out near Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish enclave in the troubled town of Nablus, but Palestinian police for the first time in days moved to keep Palestinians out of the area.
Three Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded in an exchange of fire near the Palestinian town of Bet Sahour, next to Bethlehem, the Israeli military said.
As Palestinians slain in earlier fighting were buried, some young mourners went directly from funeral processions to the front lines.
In Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp, the father of 17-year-old Omar Mohammed Suleyman wept hard as his son’s body, wrapped in a white shroud, was lowered into a sandy grave. Suleyman’s young friends looked on, grim-faced – and then immediately left for Netzarim, where he had been killed the day before. “Allahu akbar!” – God is great! – they shouted as they went.
Meanwhile, the radical Islamic group Hamas denounced the Paris peace effort, saying it represented “careless disregard for the blood of our martyrs.” In leaflets distributed in the West Bank, the group – which violently opposes any peace accord – called for new confrontations toTday and Friday throughout the West Bank, Gaza and inside Israel.
The violence was triggered by a visit Sept. 28 to Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque compound by right-wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon. Palestinians considered it a desecration of Islam’s third-holiest shrine; Sharon defiantly cited right of access to the site, which is sacred to Jews as well.
Travel remained dangerous in much of the West Bank, where many Jewish settlements have been cut off from Israel because of army restrictions on civilian movements. Some Israeli motorists have been fired upon, and Palestinians have erected barricades of burning tires and boulders along some principal routes.
“We have some communities that have been cut off now for five days,” said Yehudit Tayar, a spokeswoman for the Settlers’ Council. “They are basically being held hostage by the Palestinian police.”
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