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World - Middle East

In wake of violence, Israel suspends West Bank withdrawals

burning car
Palestinians watch an ambushed Israeli car burn
Jerrold Kessel has more on the clash near the West Bank
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CNN's Walter Rodgers gets the views of Israeli and Palestinian authorities
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Cabinet demands Palestinians abandon statehood plans

In this story:

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- In the wake of the latest outbreak of violence in the West Bank, the Israeli Cabinet decided Wednesday to suspend any further troop withdrawals until the Palestinian Authority meets a new set of conditions.

Among them: that the Palestinians publicly abandon plans to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state next year.

The Israeli government's action was prompted in part by an attack on an Israeli soldier and a civilian by rioting Palestinians in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The attack was captured by cameras and was shown repeatedly on Israeli television, raising new fears that the Palestinian Authority wasn't doing enough to combat violence, as it pledged to do under the Wye Memorandum signed in October in the United States.

"The bottom line is that there will be no further withdrawals, unless the Palestinian Authority lives up to all its commitments," said David Bar-Illan, senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian negotiator: 'Completely unacceptable'

In addition to abandoning plans for a Palestinian state, the Israeli Cabinet is also insisting that the Palestinian Authority take measures to stop any further violent demonstrations and punish those who have been involved in recent rioting.

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    They also want the Palestinians to agree with the Israeli interpretation of the Wye accord as it pertains to prisoner releases. The Israelis say they never agreed to release members of Hamas or those with "blood on their hands."

    Palestinian leaders objected when the first round of prisoner releases, called for under the Wye accord, contained some common criminals, rather than consisting solely of political prisoners.

    Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat rejected the new demands, calling them "completely unacceptable."

    Students screen, stone cars in Ramallah

    Wednesday's melee in Ramallah began when about 150 students from nearby Bir Zeit University were bused to the center of town for a protest organized by various Palestinian political factions.

    They staged a march seeking the release of prisoners, then walked to a traffic circle at the outskirts of town where, holding rocks and concrete slabs, they screened cars.

    "Wait, it's an Arab," one said of the driver in an approaching car. "A Jew," another said. Seconds later, a hail of stones hit the vehicle.

    A white car with Israeli license plates approached. The vehicle was driven by a man wearing a skullcap. A soldier was in the passenger seat.

    To shouts of "Yahudi, yahudi," Arabic for Jew, about two dozen Palestinians began pelting the car with stones and smashing its windows. The driver fled after a large rock broke the side window and just missed his head.

    The car hit a wall and came to a halt. Some attackers jumped on the hood. Others, rocks in hand, reached inside the car, striking the soldier. One Palestinian pulled the soldier out and delivered more blows as the Israeli cowered on the pavement. Another seized the soldier's M-16 assault rifle.

    An Israeli soldier is beaten by a Palestinian after his M-16 assault rifle was taken from him  

    The soldier finally got up and ran to safety. As he escaped, the attackers threw more stones at him, then doused the car with kerosene and set it on fire.

    Israeli troops fired live ammunition and a barrage of rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas to disperse the Palestinians. Eleven Palestinians were wounded by rubber bullets.

    The soldier, Assaf Miara, was hospitalized for head injuries. From a hospital bed, his head bandaged, Miara watched the incident on video and cursed quietly.

    Palestinian police later recovered the M-16 and handed it over to the Israeli army, the army spokesman's office said.

    Troops sealed off the intersection where the incident occurred, barring Palestinians from entering or exiting Ramallah from the Israeli-controlled side.

    Violence at Jerusalem funeral

    There was also violence in Jerusalem on Wednesday during the funeral process for a Palestinian who was stabbed to death earlier in the day, apparently by an Israeli extremist.

    Mourners torched an Israeli car and stoned Israeli police, who fired rubber bullets. Hours later, rioting continued in traditionally Arab areas of the city, with masked Palestinians throwing stones at cars and blocking roads with burning tires.

    Reuters contributed to this report.

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