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World - Middle East

Israel orders 'iron fist' against Arab unrest


A Palestinian taunts Israeli troops with a Palestinian flag as the soldiers shoot him with a rubber bullet

CNN's Walter Rodgers discusses the anniversary of the intifada
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December 10, 1998
Web posted at: 3:45 a.m. EDT (0745 GMT)

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he had ordered an Israeli crackdown on Palestinian unrest ahead of a visit by U.S. President Clinton aimed at fostering peace.

"Israel's security requires activating an iron fist," he told Israel Radio. This week two Palestinians have been killed and more than 150 people injured in violence that has engulfed the West Bank, according to Israeli and Palestinian sources.

"Our duty is to activate the Israeli army and security elements against this trouble in the firmest way possible," Netanyahu said. "That's an order I asked be passed to the field."

Palestinians have clashed with troops in protest at Israel's refusal to free what Palestinians call political prisoners under an October land-for-security deal mediated by Clinton in the United States.

Israel freed 250 prisoners last month, many of them common criminals. Netanyahu said the Palestinian leadership knew he had vowed not to free murderers with "blood on their hands."

U.S. official criticized

An Israeli soldier fires rubber bullets and tear gas  
A medic lifts a Palestinian child hit by a rubber bullet into an ambulance during the West Bank violence  

In a further sign of tension before Clinton's arrival late on Saturday, Netanyahu demanded an apology for comments by U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley which he said were an attempt to interfere in Israeli democracy.

"Generally, governments end up reflecting the views of the people. It takes elections to do that," Daley said in Washington on Wednesday. "Hopefully the people of Israel will make their voices heard a little louder, in their support of peace."

At the end of the radio interview, Netanyahu said: "I don't know whether he said the things -- that he hinted at or called for changes in the Israeli government. If he said these things, they're grave remarks which are unacceptable to us.

"If these things were indeed said, I expect an apology and unequivocal correction of the comments."

Netanyahu's government is threatened with collapse from hard-liners in his coalition opposed to ceding land to Palestinians. He also faces a growing demand in parliament to move elections forward to early 1999 from late 2000.

Last week Netanyahu suspended the U.S.-brokered peace accord, accusing the Palestinians of not keeping their part of the deal, and Israel's Labour party withdrew a promise to prop up the government.

Teen killed during general strike

Struggle for Peace
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    Israeli forces were on alert in case of more violence on Thursday after a Palestinian teenager was shot dead and more than 80 people were hurt in West Bank clashes on Wednesday during a general strike to mark the 11th anniversary of the start of the Palestinian intifada.

    Netanyahu, struggling to beat back a right-wing challenge to his survival, has demanded the Palestinian Authority end anti-Israeli violence and said he was likely to implement a promised West Bank pullback next week.

    On Thursday, Netanyahu said there was no firm plan for him to hold a three-way summit late on Monday with Clinton and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. He said he would examine first whether the Palestine National Council voted that day to revoke clauses of a charter calling for Israel's destruction.

    Israel carried out the first stage of the redeployment in late November in keeping with the Wye River peace accord signed in October, which provides for a pullback from 13 percent of the West Bank in three phases over three months.

    Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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