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Palestinians Mark 2nd Anniversary of Latest Uprising

September 29, 2002|From Times Wire Services

GAZA CITY — Waving flags, banners and guns, tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated Saturday to mark the second anniversary of their latest uprising against Israel, even as two more died in clashes with Israeli troops.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, under Israeli siege in his West Bank headquarters for the 10th day, promised to continue the struggle for a Palestinian state. Speaking by phone, his remarks were relayed via loudspeakers to tens of thousands of marchers in Gaza City.

"We, the Palestinian people, care not about the siege, because we are the stronger people!" he cried. "The people are with you, Abu Ammar!" chanted the crowd, using the 73-year-old leader's nom de guerre.

The siege has shored up Arafat's slumping popularity and stalled Palestinian reforms seen by Israel and the U.S. as crucial to resuming peace diplomacy. But on Saturday, Israel showed signs that it would bend to U.S. pressure and end the siege.

President Bush has sent a personal message to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urging him to drop the siege, said a U.S. official who asked not to be identified.

Sharon has sent an aide, Dov Weisglass, to Washington for talks on how to resolve the impasse between the Israeli army and Arafat, whom troops have trapped with 200 other Palestinians in his Ramallah compound.

Sharon's government has said the siege, which followed Palestinian suicide bombings that killed seven Israelis, would go on until the surrender of 50 "wanted men" it says are in Arafat's quarters. The Palestinian leader has refused to hand over anyone in the building.

Organizers of the Gaza rally estimated that 50,000 people had turned out. They added that they had asked militants not to bring guns.

Speaking to reporters at the rally from his car while surrounded by bodyguards, the founder of the radical Islamic group Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, urged the intifada to continue.

"Resistance is the only way to achieve our goals and recover our rights," he said.

Protesters in several West Bank communities, including Ramallah and a refugee camp near Bethlehem, sent hundreds of balloons into the sky.

Children clutching candles gathered by night at Arafat's Jericho office and heard the leader tell them by phone, "You are our future. We are together until victory."

Relatives said an unarmed 25-year-old Palestinian man was killed by Israeli machine-gun fire early Saturday in the Gaza Strip. The military said he had been shooting at troops.

Doctors in Gaza City said a 19-year-old was shot and killed while throwing stones.

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