Two killed in clash with Palestinian police

Force was trying to halt pro-Taliban protest when shots were fired

Internal feud intensifies

War On Terrorism

The World

October 09, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- A move by Palestinian officials to end public protests in support of Osama bin Laden and against Israel and the United States ended in violence yesterday when shooting broke out at a pro-Taliban rally in Gaza City, leaving two people dead.

Witnesses and hospital officials blamed Palestinian security forces for firing on a crowd of unarmed people. Palestinian police blamed masked militant gunmen for the deaths of a 21-year-old university student and a 13-year-old boy.

The clashes between police and the estimated 1,000 protesters left more than 50 people injured at what began as a rally with chanting in support of bin Laden outside Islamic University and escalated to include rock-throwing, tear gas and a barrage of bullets from automatic weapons. It marked a serious escalation in an internal feud between radical militias that want to continue the yearlong Palestinian uprising with violence and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who is trying to restart political negotiations with Israel.

Arafat is also anxious to distance himself from bin Laden to avoid being cast as a terrorist and to prove he wants to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through negotiations. But he is being challenged by an angry public determined to voice its opinion.

"You cannot suppress anger at this American attack," said Ismail Abu Shanab, a leader of Hamas, a radical militant group that has vowed to defy Arafat's cease-fire orders and continue its campaign of suicide bombings against Israel. Shanab, who was at the rally, blamed the two deaths on Palestinian police. He said he saw them shoot into the air, then lower their guns and fire into the crowd. "I can't understand why they shot fellow Palestinians," Shanab said. "Arafat is in a critical position. The American pressure for him to end the intifada is very big. He wants to prove to Americans that he controls everything. But the situation is complicated."

Palestinian police gave different accounts. They said first that their officers fired into the crowd after militants shot at them during a rock-throwing clash. Later, police officials said officers had only shot in the air, and blamed the deaths on the militants.

The clashes were the most violent part of a tense day of conflicting opinions and emotions throughout the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Arafat did not want a repeat of Sept. 11, when pictures of jubilant Palestinians passing out candy were broadcast around the world hours after hijacked planes toppled the World Trade Center towers and plowed into the Pentagon.

Reporters who tried to interview people in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Nablus yesterday were stopped by Palestinian police officers demanding to see permits. Television crews were barred from filming in Ramallah's central square, even though there were no signs of unrest.

Much of the dissent stayed hidden from public view. On the second floor of a coffeehouse and inside a refugee camp, people freely condemned the air war and said the United States had attacked not just Afghanistan, but all of Islam.

"There will be a new leader of the Muslim people, and it will be bin Laden," said Mustafa Mohammed, 61, a carpenter who has lived at the Amari refugee camp in Ramallah since he was 12. "America will suffer more because of this invasion."

Bin Laden referred to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a videotaped statement that was broadcast Sunday as the American attack began. He singled out Palestinian cities that have been briefly occupied by Israeli forces. "I swear by God the great, America will never dream nor those who live in America will never taste security and safety unless we feel security and safety in our land and in Palestine," bin Laden said in the taped statement.

Palestinians interviewed yesterday embraced those words. None thought the Taliban would storm into the Middle East and fight Israel, but the words joined the struggle for Muslim land into one unified battle. "It's enough to make us feel better," said Basel Ibrahim, 19, a university student studying social development in Ramallah. Noting the quiet street outside the coffeehouse, he complained that Arafat's Palestinian Authority "wants to end the intifida. What will we gain if it ends?"

Hassan Youssef, Hamas spokesman for the West Bank, said he was pleased that bin Laden mentioned the Palestinian conflict but carefully distanced himself nonetheless. "We here don't want to internationalize our conflict," Youssef said. He condemned the American bombing campaign because, he said, he did not believe that bin Laden was responsible for the attacks in the United States.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, who was in Egypt yesterday, was angry that bin Laden had talked of the Palestinian uprising. "We don't want crimes committed in the name of Palestine," he said in a statement.

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