Three Palestinians, one a 10-year-old boy, were killed and more than 70 injured Sunday as fierce clashes with Israeli forces raged for the fourth straight day, plunging the fragile peace process further into turmoil.
"There will be no negotiations with Israel with words as long as Israel is negotiating with us with weapons," Palestinian cabinet secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman said.
As on Saturday, when 17 Palestinians died, violence swept across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while in some areas gunbattles erupted between Israeli forces and Palestinians in civilian clothes.
Witnesses also said Israeli forces fired rockets on two Palestinian security offices in the Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt.
The violence, the worst in four years, continued despite Prime Minister Ehud Barak's call for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to intervene personally and a meeting overnight between Israeli and Palestinian security officials.
"Unfortunately I cannot see that it (the meeting) had any effect," Giora Eiland, head of the Israeli army's operations directorate told reporters.
The death toll over the past three days has climbed to 27 Palestinians dead, with more than 700 wounded, while the army said at least 15 soldiers have been injured.
The violence was sparked by a controversial visit by right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon on Thursday to a hotly disputed site in Jerusalem's Old City that is sacred to both Jews and Muslims.
Control over the site, known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary, is the key sticking point in efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
Among Sunday's casualties was a 10-year-old boy who was declared clinically dead after being shot by a live round in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt, hospital sources said.
A member of the Palestinian security forces was shot dead in clashes near the West Bank town of Nablus, where witnesses reported exchanges of fire between Israelis and Palestinians near Joseph's Tomb.
A third man died in a gunbattle near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip, a hospital official said.
Separately, the body of an 18-year-old Palestinian was found, apparently dead from wounds he suffered Saturday in Nablus.
Witnesses also reported clashes in Ramallah, in and around the divided town of Hebron and in Bethlehem, while in the Gaza Strip fighting erupted near Khan Yunis as well as Rafahand Netzarim.
The violence also spread to Arab towns in Israel including the largest, Nazareth, where 25 people were injured from rubber-coated bullets fired by police.
Another six were wounded in Kafr Kana to the north and seven in Umm el-Fahm, where thousands of Arab Israelis joined a demonstration and observed a general strike.
Barak had called on Arafat overnight to urge him to act and telling him that Israel would not allow the violence to be a tool in the negotiations, which have been all but grounded since the Camp David summit collapsed in July over the fate of Jerusalem.
Most of the victims were buried on Saturday, including a 12-year-old boy shot dead in Gaza, while some funerals were held Sunday.
Meanwhile Islamic leaders, politicians and media around the Middle East roundly condemned Israel, with the highest authority in Sunni Islam saying the only option was force.
The sheikh of Al-Azhar, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, told an Egyptian daily that events proved that "only force deters force".
A spokesman for the Palestinian Islamic resistance group Hamas said, "We have begun a new holy war" and warned of more violence, while the head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Nayef Hawatmeh, called on the Palestinians to continue their uprising in the face of Israeli "repression." -- NABLUS, West Bank (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)