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The BBC's Hilary Andersson in Jerusalem
"Fridays are explosive days here"
 real 56k

Friday, 17 November, 2000, 21:19 GMT
Arafat urges halt to Palestinian fire
Palestinian gunmen
Violent protests have been going on since September
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has for the first time called for a halt to shooting at Israelis from areas under full Palestinian control.


We are trying our best to get our people to stop shooting

Yasser Arafat

In an interview with Palestinian radio, he said he was doing everything he could to stop the bloodshed of the past seven weeks.

"We are doing our utmost to prevent any of our people from shooting from Area A and this is a clear order from the High Security Council," he said after Friday prayers in Gaza.

His remarks came against a backdrop of continuing violence, with at least four Palestinians, including a Jordanian citizen, killed during protests against Israel's occupation of much of the West Bank and Gaza.


Does it mean that there is a permission to continue shooting from the other areas?

Israeli General Giorta Eiland

In New York, the UN Security Council asked Secretary General Kofi Annan to liaise with both sides about the practicality of dispatching some kind of international observer group to the Middle East.

The BBC's UN correspondent says France has led UN moves to modify Palestinian requests for a peacekeeping force and overcome strong Israeli and US opposition.

The Israeli army gave what correspondents called a cautious welcome to Mr Arafat's announcement but warned that it could be "manipulation".

Israeli mounted police force Palestinians into a bus
Israeli crowd control after Palestinians marched in Jerusalem
"Does it mean that there is permission to continue shooting from the other areas?" General Giora Eiland said.

The general pointed out that Mr Arafat did not mention Areas B or C of the occupied territories, where - respectively - the Palestinians have administrative control and where Israel has maintained full security and administrative control.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has demanded that Mr Arafat end violent Palestinian protests before any dialogue can resume.

Under a ceasefire accord brokered in Sharm el-Sheikh in October, both sides agreed to issue public statements unequivocally calling for an end to violence.

Clashes

Three Palestinian teenagers and a Jordanian of Palestinian origin were killed when Israeli troops fired on protesters after Friday prayers.

Slingshot
Palestinians have continued protests despite the high death toll
Two of the dead, along with two dozen injured, were in the Hebron area where Palestinians were enraged by the shooting of two people on Thursday, one at point blank range and another who was going to be married on Friday.

On Thursday night an Israeli helicopter gunship completely destroyed the headquarters of Force 17, Mr Arafat's private guard, in Gaza.

A Force 17 officer was also severely wounded in Nablus when the checkpoint he was manning came under heave Israeli machine gun fire.

Earlier on Friday, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian policemen in Jericho. The Israelis said they had been responding to incoming fire. The Palestinians said the Israeli shooting was unprovoked.

More than 230 people, the vast majority of them Palestinians, have been killed over the past seven weeks.

'Difficult days'

Diplomatic efforts to end the clashes have intensified in recent days with visits by the US special envoy, Dennis Ross, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov.

Mr Ross went home on Thursday without reporting any progress.

Barak in Gilo
Barak visited Gilo to boost morale
Mr Barak visited the Jewish settlement of Gilo, where some of the fiercest fire fights have broken out between Palestinian militiamen and Israeli forces.

"We know you are going through very difficult days and we will do everything together so that security and quiet will return to Gilo and the children will be able to smile and play in the streets freely, day and night," Mr Barak told residents.

Israeli return fire has badly damaged parts of the neighbouring Palestinian village of Beit Jala, where a German doctor was killed in an Israeli rocket attack on Wednesday.

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