Palestinian police battle Israeli troops

NETZARIM, Gaza Strip (AP)– Yasser Arafat’s security forces battled Israeli troops throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip Thursday, and thousands of Palestinians attacked two isolated settlements in the most dramatic sign yet of the collapse of Israel’s fragile peace.
“It’s a picture of war,” Israel army radio said.
At least 37 Palestinians and 11 Israelis were killed Thursday in clashes that within hours escalated from stone-throwing demonstrations into widespread shooting.
That brought the number of Palestinians killed to 42 in two days. Another 400 Palestinians and 32 Israelis were wounded in the worst fighting since a 1993 peace accord ended six years of Palestinian revolt against Israeli occupation of the territories.
Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, declaring “an emergency situation,” ordered more troops into the West Bank and Gaza, backed up by tanks and helicopters.
The violence erupted after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week decided to open an archaeological tunnel near Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque compound, one of Islam’s holiest sites.
Palestinians claim the tunnel undermines their control over Jerusalem’s holy sites and violates Israeli assurances that no changes will be made in the disputed city until its future is determined in peace talks.
The clashes also reflected Palestinian anger at Netanyahu’s reversal of the peace policies of his predecessor, Shimon Peres.
Netanyahu returned to Israel today, cutting short a three-day trip to Europe to see if he could meet with Arafat tonight.
Arafat told Netanyahu in principle he saw no point in meeting unless Netanyahu came with concrete proposals for implementing the peace agreements, said a Palestinian source close to Arafat.
Earlier, Netanyahu had called Arafat from Germany to demand that he contain the violence. By midafternoon, Palestinian radio broadcast appeals in Arafat’s name for police to cease their fire.
Netanyahu defeated Peres in May on a platform of “peace with security,” a slogan that anxious Israelis might question now as they heard gunfire north of Jerusalem and watched their soldiers coming under fire in vivid television footage.
In Washington today, President Clinton offered his personal intervention if that would help stop the rising violence and called on both sides to resolve their differences peacefully.
“We are prepared to do anything we can that will be of assistance, and I’ve made that clear that I personally was prepared to do anything I could,” Clinton said.
Smoke from burning tires blackened the skies today as thousands of Palestinians threw stones at Israeli soldiers throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
A senior Arafat aide put the blame on Israel, saying the violence was triggered by Israeli troops using live bullets. “They are killing the peace process,” said Palestinian Cabinet secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman.
Hundreds of Palestinians marched toward the tunnel’s new exit in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter Thursday and were pushed back by Israeli troops swinging clubs.
U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said one solution to the crisis would be for Netanyahu to close the disputed tunnel. In any case, they said, the Israeli leader had to talk to Arafat.
“We believe there is no recourse but to return to peaceful discussion of the problems that separate Israel and the Palestinians,” State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said.