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Israeli Troops Fire at Protest, Kill Palestinian


JERUSALEM — One Palestinian was killed and 12 others were injured Sunday when Israeli troops fired on demonstrators protesting plans to expand a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

The incident was the first serious outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank since September, when more than 75 people died in gun battles that plunged the Middle East peace process into crisis.

In another area of the West Bank on Sunday, a militant Jewish settler was arrested and held without charges in what Israeli officials said was the first of several detentions aimed at ensuring a peaceful withdrawal of Israeli troops from the volatile West Bank town of Hebron.

Sunday's violence came in the West Bank village of Deir Qadis, near the city of Ramallah. The incident began when Israeli soldiers tried to stop several hundred Palestinians from holding a demonstration to oppose plans to expand Kiryat Sefer, a settlement of Orthodox Jews near Deir Qadis. The two communities lie about 15 miles northwest of Jerusalem.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli army said the troops fired to disperse the demonstration, which had turned violent. She said she could give no further details because the incident was under investigation. A Palestinian legislator, however, described the protest as peaceful, at least initially.

Marwan Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council from the Ramallah area, said the villagers had gathered to voice their opposition to the construction planned for about 500 acres of land confiscated from Palestinians in the area.

Barghouti said witnesses told him that the troops fired in the air and then at the legs and chests of demonstrators after they responded with hurled stones.

Dr. Shawki Harb, the director of Ramallah Hospital, where the casualties were taken, identified the dead man as Atallah Amireh, 36, of the village of Naalin. Harb said the hospital treated 12 others who were wounded in the incident.

Barghouti, who is the West Bank general secretary for Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization, said the latest violence raised questions about the future of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. "Now with more people hurt and killed, this puts the peace process again into a very critical situation," Barghouti said.

The talks over the Hebron redeployment have been at a standstill in recent days, with several sticking points reportedly remaining. Top negotiators for the two sides were scheduled to hold a brief meeting Sunday, but there were no immediate reports of progress.

The arrest of settler leader Noam Federman came against a backdrop of weekend media reports here of warnings of violence from Jewish settlers if Israeli troops go ahead with plans for the withdrawal, which has been delayed since March. Hebron, the last West Bank city under Israeli occupation, is home to about 450 Jewish settlers and about 100,000 Arabs.

Federman, a former leader of the Kach party, an ultra-right nationalist group outlawed as a terrorist organization in 1994, was taken from his home by Israeli police early Sunday.

Internal Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani, who said earlier that Israel would detain militant Jews who might try to thwart the troop withdrawal, was quoted by Israel Radio on Sunday as saying that the police had no plans for "mass preventive arrests." But he said dozens of people are under surveillance as police take preemptive action to try to head off possible violence linked to the Hebron pullout.

As tensions escalated, the Israeli media were filled with reports of various violent scenarios that might occur when the Israelis hand the city over to Palestinian control.

Quoting military and security sources, the reports outlined several scenarios, ranging from the possibility that Jewish settlers would shoot at Palestinian police officers to another that Jewish women living in Hebron might set themselves on fire in protest on the day of the withdrawal. Several of the women named denied the report in interviews on Israeli radio stations.

Israeli President Ezer Weizman, responding to the media flurry, called on the government to move quickly in Hebron and for all to refrain from violence. "Please let there not be bloodshed among ourselves," Weizman told Israel Radio. "This is my request. This is my plea."

Despite the unease in Israel and the Palestinian territories, a closure that has barred most Palestinian workers from entering Israel was eased significantly Sunday. The army announced that 35,000 Palestinians who are married and above the age of 30 will now be allowed in from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile Sunday, three Israeli soldiers were wounded in an attack by Lebanese guerrillas in southern Lebanon, one day after another attack killed one soldier and injured three others. Israeli jets were reported to have launched retaliatory air raids, but there was no immediate confirmation from the Israeli army.

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