HEBRON, West Bank (AP) — Jewish seminary students shot and killed a Palestinian on Tuesday, sparking fierce riots in which Israeli troops killed two Palestinians and injured dozens. It was the West Bank’s worst violence in months.
The rioting in Hebron raged for more than five hours, with hundreds of protesters hurling stones and firebombs at the Israelis, who fired back tear gas and rubber bullets.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Israeli security forces and Palestinian police to cooperate in restoring calm and warned that one more major terrorist attack could scuttle the peace process.
Palestinian police tried to prevent the protests from spilling over from the Palestinian-controlled part of the city into the enclave still held by Israel, where the shooting occurred — only to be pelted with stones by their own people.
The violence in Hebron — where 500 Jewish settlers live in uneasy coexistence with 130,000 Palestinians — came amid Arab dismay over the failure of Monday’s summit between President Clinton and Netanyahu to break the deadlock.
The Israeli leader, however, insisted that “interesting ideas” on how to restart talks had come out of the Washington summit. Further progress, he said, depended on the prevention of further violence.
Although Tuesday’s fighting was the bloodiest, Palestinians and Israeli soldiers have battled in the streets of the West Bank almost daily since Israel broke ground March 18 for the Har Homa housing project in east Jerusalem, the sector Palestinians want as their capital.
In Washington, Clinton urged both sides to prevent the violence from stopping progress toward peace. “We’ve just got to keep going,” he said Tuesday.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, speaking to a pro-Israel lobby, blamed the crisis on Arafat, saying the Palestinian leader was an active accomplice in a campaign of “terror and coordinated propaganda” that was aimed at defeating Israel.
Netanyahu accuses Arafat of orchestrating the riots and authorizing militant attacks, including a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv last month that killed three Israeli women.
Arafat spokesman Marwan Kanafani accused Netanyahu of having “blood on his hands” after Tuesday’s shootings. Arafat himself, speaking before the shooting, said Netanyahu’s refusal to suspend settlement building means “he does not want peace.”
The Supreme Court removed the last legal challenge to the project on Tuesday, rejecting a Jewish land owner’s attempt to prevent Israel from confiscating his 140 acres — about one-third of the construction site.
There were conflicting reports about the shooting in Hebron.
Palestinians said the attack was unprovoked, while Israelis insisted it was brought on by Palestinians who sprayed two Jewish seminary students with tear gas as they walked to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Both students had tear gas burns, police spokeswoman Linda Menuchin said.
The students opened fire with Uzi submachine guns, Hebron police commander Benny Baharon said. One shot hit Assam Rashid Arafeh, 23, in the chest, killing him, Palestinian police and hospital workers said.
Israel Radio reported that a police investigation found the students — identified as Tomer Deel and Zeev Mok — had acted in self-defense. Police still were investigating whether they shot with the intent to kill.
Palestinians angered over the shooting lobbed gasoline bombs and rocks, injuring at least five Israeli soldiers and several Palestinian policemen.
Israeli troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets, wounding about 100 Palestinians. Seven of them remained hospitalized Tuesday night.
Yacoub Julani, 16, died in surgery with the metal kernel of a rubber bullet lodged in his brain. Later, 3,000 people attended his funeral, some crying out “Rebel!” and “God is great.”
A 24-year-old man wounded in the clashes died after hours in a coma, also from a rubber bullet that pierced his eye and brain, hospital workers said.
The rioting was the deadliest since September when 80 people died in brawls that deteriorated into gun battles between Palestinian police and Israeli soldiers.