Beliefnet

JERUSALEM, Oct. 13--World leaders issued urgent pleas Friday for a halt to some of the worst violence in Palestinian areas in decades even as violence continued across the region.

At least 31 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire on Friday in scattered clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the day after Israel's bombing raids on Palestinian targets.

Israel was on a war footing on Friday following threats of Islamic extremist attacks and fears of a renewed eruption of street violence.

Fifteen Palestinian youths were shot and wounded, some with live ammunition after crowds hurled rocks and bottles at Israeli soldiers posted at Rachel's Tomb, a Jewish shrine between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the West Bank, witnesses said.

At least one was seriously injured after being shot in the head with a live bullet, witnesses said.

The soldiers also came under fire from the Palestinian refugee camp of Aidah, not far from the scene of the clashes, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

In the flashpoint West Bank town of Hebron, eight Palestinians were wounded by both rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition fired by Israeli soldiers on stone-throwing demonstrators.

Clashes also erupted to the north of Ramallah, scene of the bloody lynching Thursday of Israeli soldiers by an enraged Palestinian crowd that triggered the air strikes on targets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Some 400 Palestinians protesting at the town's north entrance stoned Israeli troops who replied with rubber bullets. Witnesses also reported a gun battle between soldiers and armed Palestinians.

Another eight Palestinians were wounded in classes in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, four with live rounds and the rest with rubber bullets.

In Jerusalem, Israeli police and Palestinians briefly clashed at the entrance to the Old City, but there were no reports of injuries.

Two weeks of violence escalated Thursday when two Israeli reserve soldiers were mutilated by a mob of enraged Palestinians. Israel responded swiftly with combat helicopters that fired rockets at several key Palestinian targets, including the residential compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been most prominent among a group of notable diplomats who have tried, without success, to broker a truce to the Israeli-Palestinian bloodletting. Annan planned to meet with Arafat again on Friday.

A conference call between President Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Arafat sought to set up a four-way summit that would also include Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. British sources went a step further, saying Mubarak had issued invitations to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to attend a summit in the coming days.

Asked about the possibility of such a gathering, Arafat said, "The most important thing before a summit is to stop the aggression against our people." There was no other immediate confirmation of a summit from any side.

Many in the region described Thursday's chaos as a nail in the coffin for the peace process that Israel, the Palestinians and Clinton had invested in over the past seven years. The tangible and psychological damage left from the day's events led many to despair.

"I believe Mr. Barak turned the light off tonight," said senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. "When it's going to be back on, I honestly don't know."

An angry Barak lashed out at Arafat, questioning the Palestinian leader's commitment to peace and holding him indirectly responsible for the deaths of the soldiers.

Barak said Israel would go after those responsible and chided Arafat for releasing dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants from jails. Israeli officials warned of possible terror attacks in the heart of Israel, and security forces went on high alert.

"This is a grave act that increases the probability of terror attacks," Barak said.

After Thursday's violent explosion, Israeli tanks circled Palestinian cities, and the army clamped an internal closure on the areas, preventing Arab residents from leaving their communities. Overnight, eight missiles were fired on a Palestinian police academy in Jericho after the centuries-old "Peace Upon Israel" synagogue there was burned.

The current round of violence broke out Sept. 28 after hawkish Israeli leader Ariel Sharon visited the Jewish and Muslim holy site in Jerusalem's Old City.

Thousands of police moved into the area early Friday, said police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby. Muslim men under 45 would not be allowed to attend prayers on Friday under the reasoning that they would be most likely to participate in rioting, Israel radio said.

Meanwhile, a politically weak Barak said he was planning for a unity government. He held talks late Thursday with Parliament faction leaders, including Sharon, and invited Sharon's right-wing Likud party to join an emergency coalition. Sharon has rebuffed Barak in the past, but the prime minister said the two leaders would continue to talk through the weekend.

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