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Israeli opens fire on Palestinian stone-throwers

Incident highlights tensions on day of U.S.-Israeli meeting

April 7, 1997
Web posted at: 1:18 p.m. EDT (1718 GMT)

KHARBATA, West Bank (CNN) -- A Jewish settler opened fire on a crowd of Palestinian students and others Monday in this West Bank village after Palestinians reportedly pelted his van with stones. Two Palestinians were wounded, one seriously.

The man got out of his vehicle and fired his assault rifle, shooting an 18-year-old in the chest, seriously wounding him, then shooting a 27-year-old in the leg. Settlers said he had an M-16, and as he fired it he held a handgun in his mouth. He drove away after the incident.

Israeli police arrested a Jewish settler suspected of the attack later in the day.

A large Israeli police contingent promptly arrived in Kharbata, which is still under Israeli security control, to inspect the scene of the confrontation. Villagers said he provoked them into attacking his vehicle by driving through the village every day, even though a bypass was built specifically for Jewish settlers.

The violent settler-Palestinian encounter comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the United States for a meeting with President Bill Clinton to discuss restarting the peace talks.

It also follows three weeks of almost daily clashes between protesters and Israeli troops that have gripped the area since Netanyahu sent in bulldozers to begin a controversial Jewish housing project in largely Arab East Jerusalem.

A symbolic load of ice

A group of Israeli peace protesters still holds out hope that the Israeli government can turn things around by severely curtailing settler activity. They trucked a load of ice to the West Bank to symbolize, they said, how settlements are freezing peace.

Settlers turned on them angrily. "Shove off!" yelled one man. "This is our place. We've bought the land. We belong here."

Whether by design or not, the construction in progress in East Jerusalem has become a symbol of the fundamental issues in the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.

The question is not only who claims rights to Jerusalem, but how big a Palestinian state on the West Bank would be, and especially whether its capital could be in East Jerusalem. Some analysts say the Israeli construction there is designed to deny Palestinian aspirations in Jerusalem, and to thwart the evolution of a full-fledged Palestinian state.

"The plan, the idea, the concept is to isolate Jerusalem from the Palestinian hinterland, and to say -- at the very least - - if we agree to some kind of mini-Palestinian state, it won't be with a capital in Jerusalem," said Ha'Aretz columnist David Landau.

And Palestinian leaders say they could never accept such an arrangement. "We will not accept at all that Jerusalem is not part of the Palestinian state and is not the capital of the Palestinian state," said Palestinian Cabinet Minister Faisal Husseini.

For now, the construction goes on at an accelerated pace. "Stopping, or suspending the building ... under the pressure of violence or threats of violence by the Palestinian Authority, could not be interpreted in any other way than surrendering to these threats," said Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert.

It's become not only a strategic battle over Jerusalem, but also a test of political will on both sides.

Correspondent Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.

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