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World - Middle East

Palestinians, Israelis clash over release of prisoners

November 28, 1998
Web posted at: 6:24 p.m. EST (2324 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Violent clashes between Israeli authorities and Palestinian demonstrators broke out in three cities Saturday, as Palestinians demanding the release of prisoners from Israeli jails held a series of demonstrations in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

In historically Arab east Jerusalem, mounted Israeli police clashed with a crowd of about 40 Palestinian demonstrators, trying to prevent them from marching toward Jerusalem's walled Old City.

The protesters blocked streets with burning tires and threw stones and empty bottles at police, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. At one point, police officers fired live bullets into the air to extricate themselves from a group of demonstrators that surrounded them, said police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby.

Ben-Ruby said organizers of the march had refused police requests to apply for a permit. He said nine police officers were injured and 19 Palestinians arrested.

A photographer at the scene reported that at least five journalists were hurt in the melee, with one taken to a hospital.

There was a similar scene Saturday in Bethlehem, when about 200 Palestinians marched toward an Israeli army outpost and pelted soldiers with stones. Troops responded with tear gas and rubber bullets until Palestinian police arrived to control the crowd. No injuries were reported.

In Hebron, three demonstrators and one policeman were injured in clashes between stone-throwing demonstrators and police who responded with rubber bullets, according to a report on Israeli radio.

Protests in four other Palestinian-controlled cities in the West Bank were reportedly peaceful.

The demonstrators are pressing for the release of some 2,500 Palestinian prisoners who remain in Israeli jails. The Palestinian Authority's prison affairs minister, Hisham Abdul-Razel, predicted an "explosion" if Israel doesn't free the prisoners.

"(The) explosion will have severe effects on all of the political developments in this region," Abdul-Razel said.

Complaints over released prisoners

Under the Wye Memorandum, signed between Israel and the Palestinians in October in the United States, Israel agreed to free 750 prisoners in three stages.

However, Palestinian officials say Israel has violated the spirit of the deal by releasing common criminals instead of political prisoners. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he never agreed to release Palestinians held on terrorism charges.

Palestinian prisoners at three Israeli prisons have gone on hunger strikes in the past week.

Some of the demonstrators Saturday criticized the Palestinian Authority for not pressing Israel hard enough to secure release of the prisoners.

"Tell (Saeb) Erekat that we are bored with his statements," chanted a crowd of demonstrators in Nablus, referring to the chief Palestinian negotiator. "What we want is to see the release of the prisoners."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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