JERUSALEM -- Israeli settlers, enraged by the murder of a 23-year-old man by Islamic militants, blocked roads in the occupied West Bank today.
The main settlers' group, Yesha, said it blockaded 48 sites, preventing Palestinian villagers from going to work, many to jobs in Israel, in a further escalation of the growing confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians.
Yesterday, Israeli settlers stoned Palestinian cars, bringing warnings that the protests could turn into a full-fledged rebellion against the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and its agreement on Palestinian autonomy.
With burning tires, overturned cars and large boulders rolled down from hilltops, the settlers built barricades on the major West Bank roads running north from Jerusalem and east from Tel Aviv, paralyzing traffic through much of the region.
Yesterday, groups stoned Palestinian cars, trucks and buses as they passed near Israeli settlements in the territory, and some set Arab vehicles on fire.
"If an Arab 'intifada' [rebellion] can bring about an Arab state, then perhaps a Jewish 'intifada' can bring about a Jewish state," Aharon Domb, a Yesha leader, said yesterday, referring to the settlers' hopes to block Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and promote the territory's incorporation into Israel.
Two Palestinians were killed in separate incidents yesterday -- one when he reportedly attacked an Israeli manager of a garage in the Gaza Strip, the other when the car in which he was riding crashed through an army checkpoint near the West Bank town of Qalqilyah and the soldiers opened fire.
The settlers' actions drew sharp criticism from Mr. Rabin, who compared them with members of the Islamic Resistance Movement (known as Hamas) in their desire to undermine the agreement on Palestinian autonomy, and from Cabinet members who saw the challenge to government authority as seditious.
"We who always condemn those who spill Jewish blood because it is Jewish, we are now suddenly setting Arab cars on fire because they are Arab," Uzi Baram, the tourism minister, said after the weekly Cabinet meeting.