HEBRON, West Bank — The Jewish enclave in Hebron was engulfed for three hours Saturday by rioting and fist fights between Jews and Arabs, an eruption that could reverberate on the peace summit in Camp David. Five Palestinians were hospitalized.
Palestinians said the Jewish settlers, known to be the most adamant opponents of Prime Minister Ehud Barak's peacemaking efforts, started throwing stones at Palestinians in the afternoon, accusing them of disturbing their Sabbath.
Settlers said the riots started when a Palestinian sexually assaulted a Jewish teenage girl. Palestinian officials strongly denied that, saying it was a pretext for violence by settlers hoping to scuttle any peace accord.
Jewish settlers have attacked local Palestinians in the past for disturbing the Sabbath, but the rioting has rarely achieved such an intensity.
Fistfights drew hundreds of Jews and Palestinians to some of the most sensitive areas in the city, including near the Cave of the Patriarchs, the scenes of bloody violence in the past. Israeli army troops, who are in charge of security in the enclave, grappled with the settlers and the Palestinians.
Settlers damaged about a dozen Palestinian vehicles.
David Wilder, a resident of the neighboring settlement of Kiryat Arba, said a 14-year-old girl from Hebron was walking to Kiryat Arba to visit friends when she was attacked from behind by a Palestinian man.
The assailant choked her, molested her, kissed her and threw her to the ground, and fled only when she started screaming