JERUSALEM — Unrest in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip entered its ninth straight week Wednesday as a Palestinian protester was shot to death in a clash with Israeli troops and a Palestinian woman died of a gunshot wound sustained Monday.
The latest shooting occurred in the West Bank city of Tulkarm, where protests broke out Wednesday night after rumors spread that Jewish settlers were rampaging through the area. The military said an Israeli officer shot and fatally wounded a 26-year-old Palestinian who attacked him. No details were given.
In addition, at least six Palestinians were wounded by gunfire during violent clashes with Israeli troops Wednesday.
The two deaths brought to at least 40 the total of Palestinians slain by Israeli gunfire since the trouble began Dec. 9. Palestinian and U.N. sources put the death toll at up to 43, and hundreds have been wounded.
Military sources said the unrest appears to have moved more toward towns and villages in the southern part of the West Bank on Wednesday after several days in which the most violent clashes were in the north. Also, the sources reported increasing friction between the 800,000 Palestinians in the area and about 60,000 Jewish settlers on the West Bank.
In one incident Wednesday, Israel Radio reported, Israeli motorists stoned by Arab youths in Bethlehem fired weapons in the air and hurled stones back at their attackers. Two settlers were injured.
State radio also reported that 1,500 Israelis applied to the Interior Ministry for permits to carry guns last month. The broadcast said the figure represents a 50% increase over the norm. It said 200,000 Israelis now own licensed weapons, 70% of them handguns. The figures do not include weapons issued to settlers by the army for self-defense.
Many settlement leaders, who have been quiet during most of the last two months, have been protesting in recent days about what they charge is inadequate protection from the army.
One settler was critically burned by a firebomb thrown through his car windshield on Sunday, becoming the most serious Israeli casualty of the continuing violence.
Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, commander in charge of the West Bank, warned during a briefing with Israeli reporters Wednesday that the army will not allow anyone else to do its job--a clear reference to the threat of vigilante action by settlers.
Meanwhile, Shilo Gal, the chairman of the Settlement Council for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, called in an Israel Radio interview for settlers to refrain from taking the law into their own hands.
Gen. Mitzna also ordered all Arab educational institutions in the West Bank closed Wednesday until further notice. The move affects about 250,000 Palestinian students in 800 schools and follows a number of stone-throwing incidents apparently hatched in the schoolyards.
Nine West Bank cities, villages and refugee camps were under full army curfews Wednesday night, with their residents prohibited from leaving their homes. The curfews affected some 200,000 Palestinians, including 100,000 in the area's largest city, Nablus, which has been under curfew since Sunday.
During a tour of the area Wednesday, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said the curfews will last for "as long as necessary" to return quiet to the territories. "It's easier to cope with the violence by curfew than by other means," Rabin said.
Other serious incidents Wednesday were in Dura, a village about five miles west of Hebron, and Silwad, about seven miles northeast of Ramallah.
In Dura, according to an army spokeswoman, dozens of young people, their faces covered with traditional kaffiyeh headdresses, attacked the town hall, burning the front door. Troops called to the scene used tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse the demonstrators but were unsuccessful until their commander shot and slightly wounded three youths, the spokeswoman said.
Palestinian sources said four youths were injured, one seriously.
In Silwad, three Palestinians were wounded by army fire after other means failed to break up a violent demonstration, the army spokeswoman said. Palestinian sources claimed the crowd was provoked by Jewish settlers who entered the village.
The army spokeswoman confirmed that Asma Sabouba, 24, died overnight Tuesday of wounds sustained in a clash with troops in Anabta, about five miles east of Tulkarm, on Monday. Two other youths also died in the incident, and at least two were wounded. The army said it was unclear whether the fatal shots were fired by soldiers or Israeli civilians who had been stopped at a makeshift roadblock and come under attack by stone throwers.