Beliefnet
JERUSALEM, Oct. 4 (AP)--Two Palestinians died in overnight skirmishes and a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed near a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, as Israeli and Palestinian leaders sought to halt the carnage at U.S.-arranged talks in Paris.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat held separate meetings in the French capital with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright--a high-level attempt to end the week of fighting that has claimed 61 lives and set back Middle East peacemaking.

Later, Arafat, Barak and Albright met together. But it wasn't clear if the talks would end the bloodshed.

Barak rejected Arafat's demand for an international inquiry into the actions of Israel's security forces. But he said he could accept American ideas calling for Israeli and Palestinian security teams to ``sit together to clarify what happened.''

``We are ready to put an end to (the violence),'' he said. ``There is no need but for a clear cut order from Chairman Arafat to his own militias and policemen to stop shooting and everything will calm down immediately.''

In the worst outburst of violence Wednesday, two Palestinians were fatally shot before dawn near the West Bank town of Ramallah. In addition, two Palestinian men died Wednesday from wounds suffered in clashes a day earlier.

Gunfights also broke out at two unstable spots where Israeli forces have battled Palestinian militants for several days running: Netzarim in the Gaza Strip and Joseph's Tomb in the West Bank town of Nablus.

Hospital officials said a 13-year-old boy was killed and at least eight people were hurt in the fighting at Netzarim Junction, scene of some of the worst clashes over the past week. Israeli helicopters fired rockets at the Palestinians near Netzarim, witnesses said.

In addition to the deaths, more than 1,800 people have been injured in the week-long clashes, most of them Palestinians.

In Nablus, Palestinian security forces, who have been scarce in recent days, worked to keep Palestinians away from the tomb compound. The Palestinian forces ordered people to leave the area, and instead of hundreds of young men hanging out near the tomb, the streets were largely empty except for the smoldering remains of burnt tires.

While the violence eased, tensions were still running high among several thousand mourners at a funeral in Nablus.

``Every day there's a martyr,'' said Taman Sabeh, 50. But, she added, the Palestinians were ready for more clashes. ``If I had 20 children I would send them all down (to fight). I wouldn't spare any of them. We're not scared of death.''

Meanwhile, the militant Palestinian group Hamas called for confrontations to intensify Friday, when the mosques are full on the Muslim sabbath.

``Friday will be a day of distinct escalation and clashes,'' Hamas warned in a statement. ``We request the preachers to allocate the Friday sermon to Jerusalem and al-Aqsa and the duty of our people and nation toward them.''

Al-Aqsa is part of the mosque complex where violent clashes began last Friday, the day after hard-line Israeli leader Ariel Sharon visited the compound, which is also holy to Jews, who know it as the Temple Mount.

In the West Bank, meanwhile, many Jewish settlements have been cut off from Israel due to Palestinian barricades of burning tires and large rocks along highways, or simply because the roads are too dangerous for travel. One settler leader said that if the army was not more forceful in dealing with Palestinian militants, armed settlers would step in.

``We have some communities that have been cut off now for five days,'' said Yehudit Tayar, a spokeswoman for the Settlers' Council. ``They are basically being held hostage by the Palestinian police.''

Settlers have come under sporadic attack, and one man was killed while traveling on a West Bank road. Most settlers oppose compromises with the Palestinians, and settler groups announced a new campaign Wednesday under the slogan, ``the people do not buy a bloodied peace.''

The Palestinians, meanwhile, have accused the Israelis of using excessive force that has resulted in the high casualty count.

``The fire now is coming from only one side, from the Israeli side,'' said Hussein Sheik, a leader of Tanzim, a paramilitary group that's part of Arafat's Fatah faction. ``This is the first time that I've seen the rock throwers facing tanks.''

Israel has moved dozens of tanks into some of the most volatile areas in the West Bank and Gaza. The army said the tanks haven't taken part in the fighting, denying reports that they were involved in a Tuesday clash in Gaza.

Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, the army chief in charge of operations, said the military was exercising restraint, but would not hesitate to use force when soldiers were endangered.

``We manage to act with great restraint in regard to everything that has to do with the use of weapons,'' Eiland said. He defended the use of helicopters, saying it was the most effective way to counter Palestinian militants firing down on Israeli forces from atop buildings.

``The use of combat helicopters naturally makes headlines, but was necessary in places where, from a tactical point, there was no better alternative,'' he said.

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