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80 hurt as clashes in Mideast heat up

Palestinians and Israeli soldiers clashed anew in the narrow streets of Hebron Saturday as Israel's proposed housing project in East Jerusalem continued to ignite bursts of violence.

Saturday's battle raged for three hours as Israeli soldiers fired volleys of tear gas, rubber bullets and some live ammunition against Palestinians who were pelting them with rocks.

At the end of the melee, Asheleleh Street, the narrow street where the brunt of the action took place, was littered with thousands of stones and canisters. Hebron hospitals reported that 80 Palestinians had been treated, including three who were reportedly hit by live ammunition, and one who lost an eye.

The violence came the day after a Palestinian suicide bomber struck in a Tel Aviv cafe, killing himself and three Israelis, and reviving a terror weapon not used for more than a year. An anonymous caller to the Israeli police said the blast was the work of the militant Islamic movement Hamas.

The blast prompted a bitter exchange between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, with each accusing the other of responsibility for the resumption of terror and violence.

Although Arafat rejected Netanyahu's charge that he had given an indirect green light to terrorists, late on Friday the Palestinian police reportedly re-arrested a Hamas official who had said at a Hamas rally earlier in the day that "only the holy warriors carrying explosives on their shoulders and exploding the enemies of God" would stop the Israeli bulldozers preparing for the housing complex on a hill in southeastern Jerusalem.

The official, Ibrahim Maqadmeh, a 47-year-old dentist, was regarded by Israel as the head of a secret Hamas terror apparatus. He was detained after a spate of suicide bombings a year ago, and his recent release was roundly denounced by the Israelis as a signal for Hamas to revive its attacks.

Israel Radio said the suicide bomber was identified by police as Mussa Abu Deiyah Ghneimat, a 28-year-old resident of the village of Zurif, near Hebron. The village was sealed off, several houses were searched, and a number of people were arrested, including Ghneimat's wife and three brothers.

Israel's unvarying policy has been to demolish the homes of suicide bombers, so anyone considering that path would know that he was putting his family into the street.

After the suicide bombing on Friday, Israeli government officials said stern measures would be taken. But the government made no announcements through the Jewish Sabbath.

Nonetheless, intensive contacts were reported between Israeli and Palestinian security officials through Saturday morning to prevent any further terror attacks and to contain the violence that has erupted during the past three days.

Saturday's confrontations in Hebron were the most intense, but they occurred farther from the Jewish enclaves in Hebron than on Friday.

But Saturday was the first time in the latest eruption that Israelis were reported to have used live ammunition. Saturday evening, the Israelis confirmed that live ammunition had been used.

On both days, Palestinian police tried to contain the stone-throwers, but were either overpowered or driven back by the stones.

The Palestinian chief of security in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, arrived on the scene and was himself almost hit by stones. In comments to reporters he blamed the disorders on Netanyahu's "crazy policies" and warned that the situation could deteriorate into civil war.

"For us, peace is a matter of principle. Security is also a matter of principle," he said. "But at the same time, Netanyahu must stop his crazy policies in East Jerusalem. This reaction, these demonstrations come as a result of those policies. We are doing our best to control the situation, but it's not easy for us. It's very difficult. We are not far from civil war if this situation continues.

"The Israelis should decide whether they want peace and security, or whether they want to continue settlements and land confiscation," he added.

The clashes in Hebron were bound to be used by Israelis opposed to the Palestinian peace treaties as evidence that the process was dangerous to the Jews. After months of tough and often bitter negotiations with the Palestinians, Netanyahu finally agreed in January to withdraw from most of Hebron, insisting to his right-wing constituents that he had secured a safer arrangement for the 450-odd Jewish settlers in the city than his predecessors had.

To the nationalists, the clashes were certain to serve as proof that the Palestinian police could not prevent violence, and that only Israeli military control could maintain security for the Jews.

Against the backdrop of continued violence, the United States cast another veto against a U.N. Security Council resolution on Friday calling on Israel to cease the construction of the Har Homa project. The resolution was milder than the first one the American delegate voted against on March 7, but Washington maintained its policy of blocking any resolution that dealt with Jerusalem.

On the disputed hillside building site, known in Arabic as Jamal Abu Ghneim and by Israelis as Har Homa, the bulldozers were idle on the Jewish Sabbath, and steady rains turned their first week's work into thick mud.

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