Beliefnet

JERUSALEM, Oct. 24 (AP)--Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak stepped up his urgent quest for the political allies needed to save his fragile government Tuesday, as his army warned that it was bracing for extended clashes in Palestinian towns.

"Friends, this is a time of emergency, and in an emergency, brothers walk together," Barak told Israel radio as he appealed to all of the nation's diverse political parties to join in an emergency coalition government.

For Palestinians, Tuesday was a holiday marking the ascension of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad to heaven from Jerusalem.

Rain-drenched streets and cold weather helped dampen--but did not extinguish--confrontations in the West Bank, while clashes carried on in the drier Gaza Strip. Three more deaths were reported, bringing the toll from nearly four weeks of fighting to 127--the vast majority Palestinians.

A 17-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed in Gaza, and a 13-year-old died of a bullet wound suffered four days earlier, the Shifa hospital said. A Palestinian man was fatally shot in the West Bank town of Jenin.

In a bid to prevent further clashes at the Israeli military outpost of Netzarim Junction in Gaza, the army uprooted an entire olive grove used by Palestinian militants for cover when firing on the Israelis.

With no current prospects for a Mideast peace deal, Barak is now focused on his own political survival. If he can't construct a solid coalition by next week, when parliament reconvenes after a three-month recess, his government is likely to crumble, and Israel would then face early elections.

Barak's team held talks for a second straight day with right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon on the possibility of a unity government, though such a move would further alienate Palestinians.

"Sharon is simply not interested in the peace process," said Ziad Abu Amr, a Palestinian political analyst.

Sharon wants Barak to step back from concessions he offered the Palestinians at a Mideast summit in July, adding that he would not join the government unless there was agreement on such key issues.

"There has to be total agreement between the prime minister and me," Sharon told Israel radio.

The talks with Sharon were inconclusive, and Barak was also courting other parliamentary factions. The prime minister controls only 30 of 120 seats in parliament, and needs 60 or more to safeguard his government.

Palestinians say Sharon's Sept. 28 visit to the disputed Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif holy shrine in Jerusalem was the spark for the violence, though Israeli authorities say the Palestinians used the controversy as a pretext for launching an uprising.

The Israeli government and the military said the violence, which was in its 27th day Tuesday, could go on indefinitely.

"The last few weeks show that [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat has probably broken off from the diplomatic path," said government spokesman Nachman Shai. "This [uprising] is different, it's more intense, more violent," than the Palestinian intifada from 1987 to '93.

There was little hope of new peace talks, and both sides have raised the possibility of unilateral actions. The Palestinians have spoken of declaring a Palestinian state without Israel's agreement, while Israel has warned it is considering a "unilateral separation" from the Palestinians that would include setting boundaries.

Many Palestinians were frustrated with the seemingly glacial pace of negotiations and feel no Israeli leaders are interested in a settlement that would satisfy Palestinians, said Marwan Barghouti, leader of Arafat's Fatah movement on the West Bank.

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