In both the West Bank and Gaza, emotional funerals for victims of clashes with Israeli troops set off new skirmishes. And both sides braced for the possibility of large-scale trouble on Friday, when officials feared that noon prayers--the most important of the Muslim week--could become a new call to battle.
One of Thursday's two deaths came at Netzarim Junction in Gaza, the scene of repeated battles as Palestinian mobs have besieged a lone Israeli outpost that guards the access road to a Jewish settlement. At least nine other Palestinians were hurt.
The ferocious street riots that swept the Palestinian lands beginning Sept. 28 have claimed at least 68 lives and injured nearly 1,900 people, nearly all of them Palestinian.
Friday's prayers at al-Aqsa mosque, the Jerusalem shrine at the center of the current outbreak of violence, were expected to be particularly fraught with danger. Weekly sermons at al-Aqsa often consist of fiery calls from the imam, or Muslim prayer leader, to defend to the death Arab control of the compound, Islam's third-holiest site.
A visit to al-Aqsa last week by rightist Israeli politician Ariel Sharon set off this convulsive bout of clashes, the most intense and sustained fighting since the 1987-93 intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israeli military occupation. The compound--known to Jews as the Temple Mount--is also Judaism's most sacred site, and Sharon says he was defending Jewish rights by visiting it.
In advance of Friday prayers, Israeli police were heavily deployed in Jerusalem neighborhoods, and the nearest hospital to al-Aqsa said its staff was on alert for potentially heavy casualties. Israeli media said authorities were considering banning worshippers under 35, who are considered to better fit the profile of potential rioters.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, returning to Israel after turbulent U.S.-brokered talks in Paris, expressed determination to halt the fighting and get the battered peace process back on track.
But on both sides, mistrust and bitterness were readily apparent, despite an agreement that field commanders would seek to exercise restraint.
"Yesterday in Paris, we continued to turn every stone on the way to peace, and try to stop the violence," Barak said. "I am not convinced that at this moment we have a partner for peace, but it is our obligation...to pursue this to the end."
At a memorial service for paratroopers slain in past wars, Barak, a former general, said "the time has not yet come to beat our swords into ploughshares." But he pledged to "seek any way to bring true security and peace to this tortured and suffering land."
Later, he told a news conference: "It will be a long struggle. There will be ups and downs."
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, returning to Gaza, was asked whether the door remained open to future peace negotiations.
"We hope so," he replied. "But first of all, we have to stop the massacres against our people...against our students and youth and children and women."
Despite consistently blaming one another for the carnage, the two sides were beginning to work together to contain it.
Israel rolled battle tanks away from the West Bank towns of Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Nablus on Thursday in an effort to calm tensions. Although the army had not used the tanks to fire on rioters, their deployment on the very edge of major Palestinian population centers had deeply alarmed the Palestinians.
Senior Israeli and Palestinian commanders also met earlier Thursday in Gaza and in Nablus, where firefights had raged earlier in the week around the small Jewish enclave of Joseph's tomb, where some believe the biblical patriarch Joseph is buried.
Israel has broken out some of its heaviest weaponry at Netzarim, using armor-piercing missiles and helicopter gunships to scatter rioters and target nearby buildings that have sheltered Palestinian gunmen. So Thursday's clash, though involving exchanges of live fire, represented something of a de-escalation.
Outside Bethlehem, street fighters from the Arafat-affiliated Tanzim paramilitary group threw firebombs at Israeli soldiers, drawing return gunfire, the army said. One Palestinian died and a second was hurt.
Funerals for Palestinian victims of the violence have been drawing volatile crowds.
In the West Bank town of Hebron, about 150 mourners swarmed into the center of town after a burial procession to throw rocks at Israeli troops. The soldiers shot back rubber bullets, injuring three Palestinians. In Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, angry funeral-goers fired guns into the air and waved Palestinian and Hamas flags as they buried a 12-year-old boy killed a day earlier at Netzarim. Hamas is an Islamic militant group opposed to the existence of Israel.
"I will continue throwing stones until I die, or victory," said Wael Abu Jamaa, 24, who was shot in the leg in Thursday's clash at Netzarim. "If Arafat and Barak succeed in reaching an agreement...it will be welcomed. But if not, we are ready to continue fighting."