There had been some expectations that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would proclaim a state Wednesday, the anniversary of a symbolic statehood declaration he made in exile in Algeria on Nov. 15, 1988. However, Palestinian officials have said a unilaterally declared state was not viable because Arafat rules disjointed areas of land.
In contrast to previous independence days, Arafat did not plan to address his people. In his only public appearance Wednesday, he did not mention the anniversary, saying only that it was the world's responsibility to get peace talks back on track.
Arafat had said a Palestinian state would be established in 2000, but after seven weeks of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, he is no longer under pressure to deliver on that promise. ``We are not disappointed because we are continuing our struggle and the struggle needs some time,'' said Marwan Abdel Hamed, a Palestinian legislator.
The anniversary came as Israel enforced a tight blockade of Palestinian towns and villages for a second day, paralyzing life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel has never said how it would respond to a statehood proclamation, but the blockade served as a reminder that it will be difficult to establish a state without Israel's cooperation.
President Clinton, meanwhile, said his biggest regret as president may be his failure to reconcile Israel and the Palestinians. ``I really wanted with all my heart to finish the Oslo peace process,'' Clinton said, adding that negotiations can't resume until the violence stops. ``You know, somebody has got to quit shooting,'' he said during a visit to Brunei.
However, just hours after Arafat's order, Palestinian gunmen shot at Israeli soldiers from a high-rise on the outskirts of the West Bank town of Ramallah. Troops returned fire, and shot a rocket into the building.
Still, diplomatic efforts continued.
U.S. Mideast envoy Dennis Ross, who is in Israel for Wednesday's funeral of Leah Rabin, the wife of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was to hold separate talks with Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.
Meanwhile, six Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire Wednesday - two at the Karni crossing between Israel and Gaza, two in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, one in Hebron and one in Jericho. Another Palestinian died Wednesday in Gaza of wounds sustained earlier. At least 36 Palestinians were wounded Wednesday, doctors said.
Since Sept. 28, at least 217 people have been killed, most of them Palestinians.
Independence day was marked by Palestinians with funeral processions for two children, 13-year-old Mohammed Ijla from Gaza City, and 15-year-old Fader Barsh from the West Bank refugee camp of Al Amari, both killed by Israeli fire the day before.
Thousands participated in Barsh's burial, including Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank leader of Arafat's Fatah movement and commander of the Tanzim militia.
Barghouti told mourners that Wednesday was a ``day of popular sovereignty.'' He urged them to block Israeli soldiers and settlers from large areas of the West Bank.
Also Wednesday, two Palestinian laborers trying to skirt an Israeli checkpoint were shot and wounded by undercover police. Police said the pistol of one of the officers misfired. Palestinian security officials said the two laborers were shot in cold blood. The Israeli Justice Ministry is investigating.
Near the northern West Bank town of Qalqilia, Israeli troops razed five Palestinian greenhouses and 10 vegetable stalls which the army said gunmen used as cover for firing on Israeli motorists.
Earlier this week, four Israelis - a truck driver, a teacher from a settlement and two soldiers - were killed in drive-by shootings. The Palestinians have said they would increasingly target soldiers and settlers, signaling a shift from mass protests at the start of the confrontations to shooting ambushes carried out by militiamen.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called a meeting of his security Cabinet for Wednesday afternoon to discuss Israel's response to the shooting ambushes.
Barak is under growing public pressure to retaliate harshly for the killings, but apparently fears that a painful Israeli strike will further reduce the chance for peace talks, which he has said remains his ultimate goal.