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Israel tense for land protests

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A police officer carries a Palestinian flag on Thursday as he walks through what's left of Force 17 headquarters in Ramallah  
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel's minority Arab citizens are to take to the streets of Galilee for the annual Land Day protests.

The demonstration comes amid increasing tension as both Palestinians and Israelis threatened the other with continued violence.

The main rally, expected to be staged in the village of Sachnin in the northern part of Galilee, commemorates the deaths of several Israeli Arabs during 1976 riots in protest at Israel's confiscation of land.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat pledged Thursday that the Palestinian flag would fly above the walls of Jerusalem before Israeli military strikes could stop the six-month-old uprising against the Jewish state.

Arafat spoke a day after Israel launched a military response to a series of bombings in Israeli territory.

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CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports Israelis and Palestinians blame each other for renewed violence

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Video of the fire and destruction in Ramallah

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CNN's Mike Hanna: Arafat not welcome in Washington

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  • Marking Land Day
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    "It's an escalation," Arafat said of air and tank strikes in Palestinian territories that targeted facilities associated with his bodyguard unit, called Force 17. "They are preparing to escalate for the next 100 days... against our people, against our institutions, against our houses, against our universities, against our everything."

    But he added: "The Palestinian people will continue with force and determination until the Palestinian flag is raised above the walls, mosques and churches of Jerusalem, the capital of the future Palestinian state, whether (people) like it or not."

    The Israeli army launched attacks against Force 17 targets in Gaza and in the West Bank town of Ramallah, killing one member of the elite guard. Force 17, Israeli officials say, has been implicated by intelligence reports in recent violence, including a pair of deadly attacks over the past three days.

    Two Israeli teenagers were killed in an apparent suicide bomb attack near the Israeli border with the West Bank on Wednesday, and a 10-month-old girl was killed by sniper fire in a Jewish enclave of the West Bank town of Hebron on Tuesday.

    The military wing of the militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, and another in Jerusalem on Monday that left more than 30 people injured, and said more such bombers were in the wings.

    A senior Israeli source, speaking after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's security cabinet met on Wednesday, said more attacks would follow.

    "There will not be a policy of reaction to attacks, rather a consistent and stable policy over time of a war on terror initiated by Israel," the source said. "A decision was taken for the carrying out of more attacks in the coming days."

    3 Palestinians killed

    Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN that Arafat's seaside home in Gaza was hit during Wednesday's attack.

    "The house was damaged. The extent of the damage is not yet known. It also is not known if anyone was injured inside the house," Erakat said.

    The Israeli army, however, denied that Arafat's home was targeted.

    At least 373 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.

    Three more Palestinians were added to the number in fighting on Thursday. One, a Palestinian man wearing a Force 17 uniform, was killed trying to attack the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, Israeli officials said.

    funeral
    Family and friends mourn near the body of a 16-year old victim of a suicide bombing on Wednesday in Petah Tikva, Israel  

    The other two were teenage boys killed during a clash between rock- and firebomb-throwing Palestinians and armed Israeli soldiers, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society. Eight more were wounded.

    U.S. President George W. Bush -- who has maintained a diplomatic distance from the Mideast conflict since taking office on January 20 -- urged both the Palestinians and Israelis to find a solution to the violence.

    "This tragic cycle of incitement, provocation and violence has gone on far too long," Bush said during a news conference in Washington. "Both sides must take important steps to calm the situation now."

    The Israeli government, the president said, must exercise restraint in its military response to the violence, and take steps, such as lifting closures and removing checkpoints, to ease the lives of Palestinians.

    "Our goal is to encourage a series of reciprocal and parallel steps on both sides that will halt the escalating violence," he said.



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    RELATED SITES:
    The Israeli Prime Minister's Office
    Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    Palestinian National Authority
    Israel Defense Forces

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