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Mideast unrest spreads

Palestinians and Israelis traded rocks and rubber bullets for the seventh day in the West Bank on Wednesday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu awaited the arrival of Washington's Middle East mediator and pondered whether to bring the opposition Labor Party into his government.

The rioting, which has pitted Palestinian youths against Israeli soldiers daily in Bethlehem and Hebron for a week, spread Wednesday to the West Bank city of Ramallah, where several hundred Palestinian students spent several hours raining stones on Israeli troops and being pelted with tear gas and rubber bullets in exchange. About two dozen Palestinians were treated for various injuries.

In Bethlehem, protesters burned U.S. and Israeli flags but were restrained from rock-throwing by Palestinian police.

Ramallah was the place where similar disorders last September, touched off by Israel's opening of a tunnel in the Old City of Jerusalem, suddenly turned murderous as the two sides began swapping gunfire.

After that violence, the special U.S. envoy to the Middle East, Dennis Ross, spent long weeks brokering an Israeli withdrawal from Hebron, which was finally completed in January and was supposed to have ushered in a more stable relationship between Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But the partnership soon disintegrated after Israel began building a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem and announced a limited redeployment in the West Bank.

Beginning his latest Middle East trip Wednesday, Ross flew to Morocco to meet with Arafat and was expected in Israel today.

U.S. officials said he would be seeking a clear declaration from Arafat that he is against the use of terror and violence. From Netanyahu, Ross is expected to seek some actions to allay the anger roused by the recent Israeli decisions.

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