Routine riot spurs bloodbath

Associated Press

NABLUS, West Bank – It began as a routine rock-throwing clash, with 150 Palestinians ducking rubber bullets fired by Israeli soldiers from a phalanx of seven jeeps.

Suddenly, a young Palestinian stepped from behind a wall, pulled a pistol from his belt and fired at Israeli soldiers. He was soon joined by other Palestinian gunmen. The Israeli response was fierce: Within 10 minutes, four Palestinians lay dead in the street and 20 were wounded in the day’s fiercest firefight, undermining a U.S.-brokered truce.

“We don’t know how it happened,” said 17-year-old Mohammed Abu Hamada, lying in a bed in Rafidia Hospital near Nablus. He and his friend, Abdel Hamil Jabar, 21, were both shot in the legs.

“There were hundreds of us watching, we do this during every clash, we always go and watch, and nobody shoots at us,” Abu Hamada said.

Abdel Halim Salem, 18, woke up in the hospital.

“I saw a Palestinian gunman shoot, and my friend and I began to run away,” he said. “He was hit in the head and part of his brain struck my jacket.”

“I saw a flash of fire crash against one of the buildings, and felt my head go hot. I put my hand on my head and saw blood. I don’t know what happened after that.”

His friend, 20-year-old Adnan Asaad, was dead on arrival at the hospital.

Salem said the gunfire returned by Israeli soldiers was quick and very intense, coming from two different directions. Witnesses said the soldiers fired from behind the jeeps and from a post on the roof of a building.

It was only a 10-minute firefight, waged across Jerusalem Road, which runs through the West Bank. But it was vicious. More than one witness said rapid automatic gunfire sprayed in every direction, targeting the 150 demonstrators as well as some 1,500 onlookers in the road.

Stone-thrower Hossam Badrawasi said he saw Anjad Abu Issa, a member of the Tanzim militia belonging to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, take out his handgun to shoot at the Israeli soldiers. He and a man standing near him were killed when the soldiers returned fire.

Another man had his fingers and most of his hands shot off when he picked up Abu Issa’s weapon and began firing at the soldiers, said Badrawasi, who lives in the nearby Balata refugee camp.

The street battle at Nablus was one of the bursts of violence Friday that greeted the end of a 48-hour deadline imposed by Israel to evaluate a U.S.-brokered truce. In the wake of it and other incidents in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the truce appears dead.

In three weeks of fighting, 113 people have been killed, the vast majority Palestinians. That includes 20 boys under 18, according to the Betselem human rights group.

Other young people died across the West Bank on Friday. In Ramallah, a 17-year-old rock-thrower sought refuge behind a makeshift barricade of smoldering car wrecks. He was shot in the head and died instantly. Israeli soldiers kept shooting as those nearby tried to evacuate him.

In the village of Salfit near Nablus, a 13-year-old boy was killed during clashes, also with a shot to the head. A 16-year-old stone-thrower was shot and killed in the town of Qalqiliya, and another 16-year-old was killed in Tulkarem.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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