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Violent Eruptions in Middle East Cause Over 50 Deaths

By Mary Curtius
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- UMM AL-FAHEM, ISRAEL

Clashes between security forces and Israel’s Arabs spread so widely Monday that both sides spoke fearfully of the violence spiraling into a communal war between the country’s Jewish majority and the Arab minority.

In addition to battling Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on the fifth day of violent protests, Israeli police were fighting stone-throwing protesters in their own back yard -- in Israeli towns from the Negev Desert in the south to Nazareth in the north.

Alarmed by the violence, the Clinton administration searched for ways to salvage the Middle East peace process. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who was in Paris, summoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to meet her there on Wednesday.

In a statement, Albright said her objective was to “find a way to end the violence, restore calm, and ensure that there is no repeat of such an escalation.”

But the toll of dead and wounded continued to climb. About 50 people have been killed so far.

Demonstrations began after Ariel Sharon, leader of Israel’s right-wing Likud party, visited the holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City last week that Muslims call the Haram al-Sharif and Jews call the Temple Mount.

At least five Israeli Arabs were shot and killed Monday in clashes with border police and two more died of wounds sustained in riots the day before. Eight Palestinians reportedly were killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hundreds of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs were wounded by Israeli troops firing live ammunition and rubber bullets, and Palestinians now put the number of wounded at more than 1,000.

One Israeli Jewish civilian, a man who was heading into a West Bank town to get a tire repaired, and an army sergeant also were killed.

The army said soldiers escorting a civilian oil truck near the West Bank village of Beit Sahur were fired on, and that Sgt. Max Hazan was killed. Four other soldiers were injured, and gun battles continued in the area into the night.

The violence in the territories angers Israelis, who blame Arafat. But eruptions in the West Bank and Gaza long ago became a familiar feature of military occupation. It is the rage playing out in the streets of Israeli Arab villages and the mass demonstrations airing on their nightly television news broadcasts that are shocking both Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs.

Israeli Arabs, Palestinians who stayed when the Jewish state was declared in 1948 and their descendants, make up 20 percent of Israel’s population. Although they do not serve in the army and suffer from various forms of discrimination, they are citizens with full rights to vote and hold political office. With 11 members in Israel’s parliament, they are expected to take their grievances to the political and legal arenas rather than the streets.

In Umm al-Fahem, Arabs said their anger is deep and will not abate until the government makes changes in the way it treats both Palestinians in the territories and Israeli Arabs.

Sharon’s controversial visit and the heavy casualty toll among Palestinians in the resulting violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip triggered the violence inside Israel, Umm al-Fahem demonstrators said.