Israel gov’t warns of tough stand


JERUSALEM, Reuters

Palestinian mourners called for revenge on Saturday as they buried six of their own killed by Israeli troops, defying warnings by Israel of a new gloves-off policy towards an uprising now in its seventh month.

Thousands marched in the West Bank town of Nablus at the funerals of five Palestinians shot during stone-throwing protests on Friday, one of the bloodiest days in recent weeks.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, mourners bore aloft the body, wrapped in a flag, of a 21-year-old man killed by Israeli troops on Friday after a reported 1,000 people marched on an army checkpoint.

Israeli troops clashed with Palestinians on Saturday near Gaza’s Erez checkpoint and the Karni commercial crossing with Israel. The army said it had come under attack from Palestinians who hurled at least three petrol bombs at its positions.

It also reported overnight shooting on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and on the outskirts of Jerusalem. ‘Land day’ protests Meanwhile Palestinian hospital officials said Israeli troops had wounded 11 demonstrators with live bullets during disturbances that erupted after a demonstration on Saturday attended by hundreds in Gaza City to mark “Land Day.”

“Land Day” marks the killing of six Israeli Arabs by security forces 25 years ago during demonstrations against government expropriation of their land. Israeli Arabs had marked the anniversary on Friday.

Saturday’s protests took place in the shadow of comments the previous day from Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who said Israel was ending its “policy of restraint” in dealing with the Palestinian revolt against Israeli occupation.

Passions have been inflamed by a week of Palestinian bomb attacks, Israeli missile strikes in Gaza and the West Bank, and demands by U.S. President George W. Bush that the Palestinians in particular do more to halt the violence.

The U.S. State Department on Friday denied Palestinian claims that Washington had given Israel’s military crackdown a green light.

But most dailies across the Gulf on Saturday accused the Bush administration of encouraging Israel to step up violence by vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an international force to be sent to protect Palestinians. Funeral procession

In Nablus, around 200 Palestinian women joined the funeral procession, calling for Israel to be fought with all means.

Several wore white headscarves, indicating support for the militant Islamic group Hamas and Arafat’s Fatah faction.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told the Swiss Neue Zuercher Zeitung newspaper that he was in touch with both sides, and again urged them to take rapid steps to stop the fighting.

“At the same time the economic situation of the Palestinians must be improved and the parties to the conflict must return to the negotiating table. This will not happen overnight, but it must go in this direction,” he said.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s Cabinet was expected to meet on Saturday after Israel, trying to put pressure on him to call a halt to the violence, on Friday prevented 12 ministers crossing from Gaza to attend a meeting in the West Bank.

A man died overnight in a Ramallah hospital of wounds sustained during Israeli air raids on Wednesday evening.

At least 366 Palestinians, 13 Israeli Arabs and 69 other Israelis have been killed since the start of the uprising.

Jerusalem police said they were investigating a failed attempt by a Palestinian man to stab an Israeli policeman on Saturday near the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s walled Old City.