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Palestinians mark date of uprising against Israel

Truce holding despite marches, fresh violence

SHARE Palestinians mark date of uprising against Israel

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Thousands of Palestinians today marked the anniversary of their uprising against Israel with marches, rock-throwing and three minutes of silence. Three Palestinians, including a 10-year-old boy, were killed by Israeli troops in confrontations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Forty-five Palestinians were wounded, two of them critically, doctors said. Six Israelis, including three civilians, were also hurt.

Despite the bloodshed, both sides said they remained committed to a fledgling truce arranged at the urging of the United States. Senior security commanders from the two sides met to work out the next steps, such as easing Israel's blockades of Palestinian towns.

Washington has been pressing for calm in the Middle East as it tries to bring Arab and Muslim states into an international anti-terrorism coalition.

Rallies were also held in Arab nations, where the public has been outraged by images of Palestinian deaths. In the Iraqi capital, a crowd of about 20,000 waved Palestinian and Iraqi flags.

In several rallies and mosque sermons, speakers urged Palestinians to keep fighting Israel. However, Palestinian officials said they wanted to make the truce stick.

"It's a matter of life and death for our people, and for the Israelis," Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said of the truce.

Yarden Vatikay, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Ministry, said the Palestinians had not lived up to their promises but that Israel was not walking away from the truce.

The truce was affirmed Wednesday in a meeting between Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Israel has said it would ease its security blockade of Palestinian towns in the coming days, while the Palestinians said they were considering Israel's request to arrest suspected militants. Despite the truce, there has been sporadic fighting, with seven Palestinians killed by Israeli fire since Wednesday. The U.S. State Department has criticized Israel for what it said was a "provocative" military strike in the Rafah refugee camp Thursday, scene of most of the violence this week.

Israeli-Palestinian fighting erupted Sept. 28, 2000, after Ariel Sharon, now Israel's prime minister, visited a contested holy site in Jerusalem's Old City, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary. Since then, 649 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 177 on the Israeli side.

Across the region, Arabs rallied Friday to mark the start of the uprising.

In Syria, about 1,000 people marched through the capital in silence out of respect for the dead, while in south Lebanon, more than 1,000 people marched through the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh to protest Israeli policy. In Baghdad, demonstrators chanted slogans calling for President Saddam Hussein to "liberate Jerusalem" and "blow up Tel Aviv," the commercial capital of Israel.

In Egypt, however, security forces turned out to deter demonstrations, and mosque preachers — who mention the intefadeh nearly every week — made only brief references to the anniversary.

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, sirens wailed in several towns, including Jenin and Qalqiliya, as residents observed three minutes of silence in public squares to mark the anniversary.

Thousands joined a march in Gaza's Nusseirat refugee camp, streaming into the street after prayers at two local mosques. Marchers carried banners reading: "The uprising will continue until we uproot the Zionist occupation from our land."

A member of Arafat's Fatah movement, addressing the crowd through a loudspeaker mounted on a truck, said the fighting would continue "with all means," despite Arafat's orders to stop attacks on Israelis.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, traffic stopped as Palestinians observed three minutes of silence. In the city's central Manara Square, masked men burned a cardboard model of a Jewish settlement.

After the rally, a procession made its way to an Israeli checkpoint, where dozens of youngsters threw stones at soldiers. Three stone-throwers were wounded by live Israeli fire and 24 were hurt by rubber-coated steel pellets, doctors said.

However, Palestinian police kept gunmen away from the area, traditionally a scene of firefights during Friday marches.

In the West Bank town of Hebron, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli troops, drawing return fire that killed a 25-year-old man and wounded 12 other Palestinians. In two nearby villages, two boys, ages 10 and 17, were killed by Israeli troops dispersing stone throwers with live ammunition, Palestinian doctors said.

The army said that troops briefly entered one of the villages — Al Khader — to chase Palestinians who had thrown an explosive device at an Israeli outpost. The army said a gun battle ensued, and that troops eventually left the village.

In Rafah, a Palestinian was critically wounded in what Palestinians said was an unprovoked shooting from an Israel tank parked at the outskirts of the refugee camp. The army said it had no reports of shooting in Rafah.

Many Palestinians said they were skeptical about truce prospects.

Some said they had sacrificed too much during the past year to end the uprising now. Others said there was little point in returning to negotiations because they felt Israel's hard-line prime minister, Ariel Sharon, had little to offer them.

"We have given a lot for this land," said Walid Ifha, a 35-year-old Ramallah school teacher. "To end the uprising without results is not fair. We should continue until we get what we want."

Israeli security forces in Jerusalem's Old City barred Palestinians under the age of 40 from attending prayers at the Haram as-Sharif.

In his Friday sermon, the top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem, Mufti Ikrema Sabri, called the uprising a "holy war" and said it would continue until Israel no longer controlled the holy city, which he said was under "military siege."