JERUSALEM — Jewish settlers shot and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian high school girl in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip on Tuesday, touching off violent clashes later in the day between soldiers and students at Gaza's Islamic University.
The girl was the 24th known Arab victim of Israeli gunfire in the last 12 months in territories captured by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967. More than 100 other Palestinians have been wounded in the West Bank area and the Gaza Strip in that same period by Israeli soldiers, settlers and the paramilitary Israeli border guards.
Observers here blame the spate of violence on increased militancy among young Palestinians who have lived all their lives under Israeli army rule and on what appears to be a greater readiness by armed Israelis to use their weapons against Arab demonstrators.
Israeli army radio quoted Gaza police sources as confirming that Intissar Attar, a student at Sukineh Bint al Hussein Girls' High School in the Deir al Balah refugee camp, about 10 miles south of Gaza City, was killed by settlers who opened fire at a group of Palestinians who were stoning their cars Tuesday morning. Jewish settlers in the occupied territories are issued weapons for self-defense by the army and are advised to carry them whenever traveling outside their settlements.
Six settlers were reportedly being held for interrogation Tuesday evening. It was not clear whether they would be held overnight.
A settler interviewed on army radio said he and several neighbors were on their way to Tel Aviv from a block of Jewish settlements near the center of the 28-mile-long Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning when they came upon a roadblock made of stones.
'Girls Attacked Us'
"We tried to bypass it, and 50 student girls attacked us, stoning our car," continued the settler, whose name was not given. "We shot in the air, and more than that we do not know."
The head of the Israeli army's Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, said, "Shots were fired in the air, and we know that a school student was killed, apparently by bullets fired at her."
He said no soldiers were involved in the incident.
Gen. Mordechai urged the settlers "to quiet their tempers and let the security forces and the police perform their duty." After touring the area where the incident occurred, he reportedly ordered an investigation and visited the girl's parents.
Word of the girl's death spread quickly, and by mid-morning students at Gaza's fundamentalist Islamic University began demonstrating and setting up roadblocks. Army troops that had been sent to the scene surrounded the campus and used tear gas. At least two students were injured in the clashes, which continued until late afternoon. The most seriously hurt was hit in the head at close range by a rifle-launched tear-gas canister.
Only about 2,200 Jewish settlers live in the Gaza Strip, which was captured from Egypt, but they occupy about 30% of the 135-square-mile area. More than 650,000 Palestinians, mostly refugees, are squeezed into about half the strip, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The rest of Gaza's land has been designated restricted border zones by the army.
Palestinian sources said the girls' school demonstration Tuesday morning was meant to protest the way Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has been treated in Amman, Jordan. Pro-PLO Palestinians consider it a snub that Jordan's King Hussein refused to receive Arafat on his arrival in Amman for an extraordinary Arab summit meeting. The two men finally met Tuesday, and, according to Arafat, settled their differences.
Hussein and Arafat had been at odds since early 1986, when their efforts to adopt a joint position on Mideast peace negotiations collapsed and the king closed the PLO's offices in his country. Ever since, the two have been vying for support among West Bank and Gaza Palestinians.
Arafat's people have been particularly active in the occupied territories in the hope that pro-PLO demonstrations there will enhance his stature among other Arab leaders.
80 Palestinians Killed
The increased political activity is reflected in West Bank and Gaza casualty figures. On the West Bank, for example, about 80 Palestinians have been killed or wounded by gunfire this year, about double the toll for all of 1986. Complete figures for Gaza were not immediately available, but it is known that at least 11 of the 24 Palestinians shot to death in the last 12 months came from there.
The overwhelming majority of the victims were shot by either regular or reserve army troops, mostly during political demonstrations at universities or refugee camps. Several Gazans have been shot for allegedly failing to obey an order to halt at an army roadblock. Four were killed in a shoot-out with Israeli security police early last month. The dead Palestinians have ranged in age from 12 to 67.
Israeli army officials say they have been using new equipment in an effort to control political demonstrations in the territories with fewer casualties. Troops are using rubber bullets and water cannon more frequently than they did two or three years ago.
Also, the army recently began using a special .22-caliber Beretta sniper rifle in the territories. Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, head of the army's Central Command, which includes the West Bank, told Israeli reporters recently that the rifle was meant to reduce fatalities by allowing specially trained men to target leaders of demonstrations.
He said his men were under orders to fire at the legs of leaders and that compared with standard-issue rifles, the Beretta would cause lesser injuries.
But the Beretta was used in a student demonstration at Bethlehem University two weeks ago and proved to be just as lethal as other weapons. A student, Isac abu Srur, died from a bullet in the head.