5 killed in protests on Palestinian 'Land Day'
Clashes in West Bank, but some towns peacefully mark day of commemoration
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A tumultuous week in the Middle East ended on Friday with signs of an intensified conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
At least five Palestinians were reported killed in clashes with Israelis as Palestinians marked "Land Day," commemorating the deaths of six Arabs 25 years ago while protesting land confiscations in northern Israel.
Israeli troops killed one person in Ramallah. At least ten were also wounded, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said, as several thousand Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces.
Four Palestinians were killed in the West Bank town of Nablus.
In Jerusalem, police fired stun grenades against stone-throwing protesters at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound -- one of Islam's holiest sites adjacent to the Western Wall, a site sacred to Jews. At least seven protesters were arrested by undercover officers.
Jewish worshippers praying at the Western Wall were evacuated by Israeli forces after being showered with stones. They were allowed back to the wall after one hour.
CNN Correspondent Ben Wedeman said angry demonstrators in Ramallah burned an effigy of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the center of the West Bank town, then marched to a crossroads on the city's north, the site of numerous clashes with Israeli soldiers in the past.
There, a fierce gun battle, including heavy machine gun fire, raged for half an hour.
In Ramallah, as in other towns, the protesters expressed anger at the United States as well as Israel. The United States vetoed a U.N. resolution earlier this week that would have authorized a peacekeeping force in the region.
There were also reports of clashes in Gaza, Hebron in the West Bank and Nazareth, but the village of Sachnin -- in the northern part of Galilee in Israel and the expected focus of the Land Day protests -- was reported quiet.
CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel, in Sachnin, said the demonstration was "entirely peaceful," although protesters were not shy to voice disapproval of Sharon and his policies.
Some 10,000 people -- Arabs and Jews alike -- joined the protest. Israeli security forces steered clear of Arab towns in Israel to avoid confrontation.
The Land Day tradition began in 1976 when six Arabs were killed by police in northern Israel while protesting against Israeli plans to confiscate 20,000 acres of Arab-owned land.
Week of death
The week began with the shooting death of a 10-month-old Jewish baby girl, struck by sniper fire on Monday, and included suicide bombings, air strikes and threats and counter-threats from politicians.
But following the deaths of two Israeli teen-agers on Wednesday, killed by a suicide bomber as they waited for a bus to take them to seminary school, Israel struck back, launching air strikes at targets in the West Bank and Gaza associated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's bodyguard unit, Force 17.
The Israelis said they had evidence that the elite unit was involved in recent violence, but the Palestinians say such allegations are untrue and call such attacks unprovoked.
After the attacks, Arafat pledged that the Palestinian uprising would continue until the Palestinian flag flies "above the walls of Jerusalem," and Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer warned that Israeli troops would enter Palestinian-controlled territory if necessary to end the violence.
At least 375 Palestinians have been killed. Israeli officials say that 69 Israeli Jews, 13 Israeli Arabs and a German have also died in the six months of violence that began on September 28.
CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna contributed to this report.
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