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S P E C I A L:
Struggle for Peace

28 hurt in West Bank clashes

Netanyahu calls shooting of Palestinians 'tragic mistake'

March 12, 1998
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EST (0100 GMT)

HEBRON, West Bank (CNN) -- As many as 28 people were injured Thursday in clashes between stone-throwing Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops, as the fallout continued from Tuesday's fatal shooting of three Palestinians at a Israeli military checkpoint.

Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in unusually conciliatory remarks, expressed sympathy to the families of the shooting victims, calling the incident a "tragic mistake."

"I want to tell them that I know what price you paid and what pain you feel. And I want you to know, from our standpoint, we will do everything possible to advance the peace," the prime minister said.

CNN's Walter Rodgers reports
icon 2 minute, 30 second VXtreme video

Speaking to reporters in Gaza City, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he hoped the shooting would not affect peace negotiations between the two sides.

"We are committed to the peace process, in spite of everything we are facing," Arafat said.

Clashes Thursday in 5 communities

Protesters and soldiers clashed Thursday in five West Bank communities, including Dura, the home of the three Palestinian construction workers shot Tuesday at an army roadblock west of Hebron.

Palestinian police eventually broke up demonstrations in Hebron and Bethlehem after several hours. A Palestinian teen was in serious condition after being shot in the stomach by a Jewish settler whose car had been stoned by protesters near Dura.

A 13-year-old boy injured in clashes Wednesday, Sami Darameh, was declared brain dead at a Hebron hospital. A rubber bullet had penetrated his skull.

Purim celebrations offer bizarre counterpoint

In a bizarre counterpoint to Thursday's violence, hundreds of Jewish settlers, dressed in costumes to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, paraded through Hebron as smoke billowed overhead and the sound of rubber bullet-fire echoed in the background.

"Why should we be scared?" asked one reveler, Elisheva Ginsburg, 15. "This is my country, and this is my holiday. And I will not let the Arabs ruin it for us. Do they stop to mark our sorrows?"

Purim parade
The Purim parade in Hebron Thursday  

One Israeli teen was dressed like Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish doctor who four years ago chose the Purim holiday to massacre 29 Arabs praying in a mosque.

Palestinian youths lined the parade route as Israeli troops kept a watchful eye.

"They fly balloons, and we burn tires," said Hamuda Atrash, 23. "We are so many worlds apart that there will never be peace."

Purim marks the salvation of Jews from genocide in ancient Persia.

Report: Gas pedal on van may have been stuck

On Tuesday, Israeli troops opened fire on a van carrying the construction workers when it gained speed at the roadblock and tried to cut in front of other cars.

Soldiers said they believed the van had run over one of their colleagues and that their lives were in danger. But Palestinian witnesses insisted the troops fired without provocation.

Israeli television reported Thursday night that a preliminary investigation showed that the van's gas pedal might have been stuck.

"The standing order in the Israeli army is certainly not to shoot innocent people and to shoot only when the soldiers feel that their lives are really in danger," Netanyahu said in an interview on an Arabic-language TV program. "To my regret, mistakes sometimes happen -- tragic mistakes of the kind that happened (Tuesday)."

The Israeli army has launched an investigation into the shooting but has rejected Palestinian demands for a joint inquiry. Arafat said he expected to be briefed on the findings of the investigation.

Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.

Struggle For Peace

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