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'Day of rage' leaves 5 dead

Palestinians pack streets as Mideast violence escalates

JERUSALEM — Thousands of Palestinians clashed with Israeli troops today in a "day of rage," their anger fueled by Israeli rocket attacks earlier this week and threats to recapture Palestinian lands. Five Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and more than 100 injured, including dozens hit by live Israeli fire.

Across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, demonstrators burned Israeli and U.S. flags, as well as effigies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In one march, led by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, the crowd chanted: "Sharon, wait, Fatah is going to open your grave in Gaza."

The Islamic militant group Hamas, which carried out two suicide bombings this week, killing two Israeli teenagers, said more attacks would follow. "Our message to Sharon is that we will not give up," said the Hamas leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

In Israel's Arab communities, tens of thousands of people marched peacefully to mark "Land Day," a symbol of Israel's 1.2-million strong Arab community's struggle for equality. Land Day is the annual commemoration of 1976 protests against land expropriation in which six Israeli Arabs were killed by police.

Friday's protests capped a tumultuous week of suicide bombings, shootings and rocket attacks. In response to the flare-up, Arafat said the six-month-old Palestinian uprising would continue, and Sharon's defense minister warned that Israeli troops would re-enter Palestinian-controlled areas, if necessary.

In all, five Palestinians were killed and 81 wounded by Israeli fire Friday, Palestinian doctors said. Another 55 were hurt by rubber-coated steel bullets, according to hospital officials.

One of the fiercest clashes erupted in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Hundreds of Palestinians threw stones at troops who responded with rubber bullets and live rounds, killing a 21-year-old Palestinian. After an hour, Palestinian gunmen joined the confrontation, drawing heavy Israeli fire from tank-mounted machine guns. In the town of Nablus, four Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops.

In the divided town of Hebron, Palestinians fired at Jewish enclaves, and in return Israeli tanks shelled the neighborhood where the gunmen had taken up position.

In the Gaza Strip, 30 gunmen from Arafat's Fatah group led a large march, firing in the air.

Mohammed Musallam, carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle, said attacks against Israel would continue. "If Sharon thinks for a second to reoccupy the Palestinian areas, he should prepare black bags for the remains of his soldiers," Musallam said.

Israel's defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, has said that Israel would send forces to "any place we feel is endangering us." The Palestinians control about two-thirds of Gaza and 40 percent of the West Bank under interim peace deals signed since 1993.

In the Israeli Arab town of Sakhnin, thousands of Arabs and some Jews joined Land Day commemorations. Marchers carried a large Palestinian flag in a show of solidarity with their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Residents said that since the 1976 round of expropriations that sparked the initial protests, more land has been taken.

"Now the fight is about the land we have to live on, our houses. It has arrived at our bedrooms," said one of the marchers, who would only give his first name, Hassan.

Marchers also laid wreaths at the graves of two Sakhnin residents killed in clashes last fall with Israeli troops. At the time, thousands of Israeli Arabs had staged anti-government protests to show their support for their Palestinian brethren.

At the most sensitive spot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, more than 100 Palestinians threw stones and several firebombs at Israeli police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Police briefly evacuated Jewish worshippers from the nearby Western Wall, Judaism's holiest shrine, after stones were thrown there from the mosque area. At one point, undercover police arrested seven stone-throwers and dragged them away.

The turbulent week began with the killing of a 10-month-old Israeli baby by Palestinian fire, followed by suicide bombings that killed two Israeli teen-agers.

Before Friday, six Palestinians were killed in subsequent clashes with Israeli troops, including a rocket attack Wednesday night on the headquarters of Arafat's Force 17 security branch.

Sharon, having ordered his first military operation since taking office March 7, has charged that Arafat was responsible for promoting violence, and that his elite Force 17 guard was behind some of the attacks.

Defiant after inspecting smoldering rubble at a rocketed Force 17 base, Arafat said the uprising would continue "until we raise the Palestinian flag in every mosque and church and on the walls of Jerusalem."

In Washington, President Bush called on Arafat to stop attacks on Israelis. "I hope Chairman Arafat hears it loud and clear," Bush said Thursday. He also called on Israel to show restraint and ease restrictions on the Palestinians.