Palestinians Renew Clashes with Israeli Troops, as Peace Negotiators Miss Deadline
Renewed clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian demonstrators broke out in the West Bank town of Bethlehem Saturday evening after a march calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners in the Jewish state, witnesses reported. In the meanwhile, Palestinian and Israeli peace negotiators missed the May 13 deadline for framework agreement on the final status issues.
Around 200 young Palestinians threw stones at Israeli police who replied with rubber bullets and tear gas, after around a crowd of some 2,000 bearing candles had marched in the town center near to the tomb of Rachel, a holy site in a Jewish part of town.
The Red Crescent said 17 people were injured in the evening clashes, one seriously, during the trouble which lasted between two to three hours.
Earlier in the day, at least 32 Palestinian youths were wounded, two of them by live rounds, in clashes with Israeli troops following demonstrations also demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners, medical sources said.
In Tulkarm, west of Nablus, two demonstrators were wounded by conventional bullets and 19 by rubber bullets, a source at the Palestinian Red Crescent organization said.
The troops, who also used tear gas, fired on a group of students who threw stones and Molotova cocktails at them.
Those clashes broke out near an area held by the Israeli army which is also home to some 400 Jewsish settlers.
Eleven more Palestinians were hurt in a similar clash in the center of Hebron, also in the West Bank, taking the casualty toll for Saturday's clashes to 49 injured.
Most of the 32 youths injured in the earlier incidents did not sustain major injuries, nor did two Israeli soldiers hit by stones. An Israeli military spokesman who spoke to AFP denied the Israelis used conventional bullets.
The marches were part of a week of activities organized by prisoner advocacy groups to raise awareness of the prisoners, many of whom have been on an indefinite hunger strike since Monday.
Six hundred and thirty prisoners, jailed for violent protests against the peace process with Israel, have been on hunger strike for five days, according to Eissa Qaraqa, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club in Bethlehem.
Another 80 prisoners have refused food since the beginning of the month.
As the Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinian protesters, Palestinian leaders accused Israel of causing peace negotiators to miss another deadline for the outlines of a final treaty.
The fighting came as a deadline for a framework on a final peace treaty passed with the sides still deeply divided over the questions of final borders, the status of Jerusalem, return of Palestinian refugees and the future of Jewish settlements.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak set the May 13 deadline after the sides missed an initial mid-February target date. The missed date could jeopardize the September 13 deadline Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat have set for a full-fledged permanent agreement.
The sides are waiting for U.S. Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross to return to the region on Monday. They hope his participation in the next round of talks will help bring progress.
The Palestinians want to establish a state in all the West Bank and Gaza Strip while Israel reportedly hopes to annex at least 20 percent of those areas. Israel refuses to grant the Palestinians sovereignty over any part of east Jerusalem, where the Palestinians want to establish a capital. Arafat has said he will declare statehood this year, even without an agreement with Israel.
Barak is having a tough time gaining approval in his coalition for a key Palestinian demand in the talks -- that Israel transfer Arab villages near Jerusalem to full Palestinian control in the next withdrawal of Israeli control from areas in the West Bank – (Agencies)
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