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Middle East protests, gunfight injure dozens

Capping a day of clashes, Israeli soldiers in armored trucks traded gunfire with Palestinian police Friday in the Gaza Strip.

The confrontation began when several dozen Palestinians threw stones at an Israeli army outpost. Palestinian police then scuffled with Israeli soldiers, saying they had encroached on Palestinian territory.

At some point bullets were fired, although it was not clear who shot first. Three Palestinians, including two police officers, were wounded. An Israeli soldier who was shot was hospitalized in stable condition.

Earlier across the West Bank, hundreds of Palestinians hurled stones at Israeli troops Friday in what activists said was the first of two "days of rage" over Israel's refusal to release Palestinian security prisoners. In Ramallah, protesters burned an effigy of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli and U.S. flags.

In all, 82 demonstrators were injured by rubber-coated steel pellets. Five were in serious condition.

In Ramallah, a majority of the stone throwers were supporters of Islamic militant groups that oppose peace with Israel. In contrast, protests earlier this week were led by Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

In Sweden, Israeli Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and Palestinian Parliament Speaker Ahmed Qureia began a new round of negotiations Friday. Both sides said some progress has been made after months of deadlock.

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