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The BBC's Paul Adams in Jerusalem
"This has been an impressive show of strength"
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Former Israeli Government Spokesman, Avi Pazner
"It is obvious the Isreali public reaction to President Clinton's proposals is raising many doubts"
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Spokesman for Yasser Arafat, Marwan Kanafani
"We see some positive elements; we see some that disturb us"
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Monday, 8 January, 2001, 19:54 GMT
Israelis stake claim to Jerusalem
Protest
Protesters were banned from part of the city
Tens of thousands of Israelis have converged on Jerusalem's Old City for what organisers say is the largest rally of its kind to protest against handing parts of the city to the Palestinians.

Jerusalem demonstrators
Right-wingers were joined from other shades of political opinion
Bearing placards and large torches, and singing patriotic songs, right-wing Jewish settlers and a range of Israelis from other shades of political opinion ringed part of the ancient walls of the Old City - which houses sites holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Thousands of extra police were called in to ensure calm during the demonstration and participants were banned from one section of the wall to avoid clashes with Palestinian residents.

The US is encouraging Israel to offer back parts of the city which were seized in 1967 and reactivate peace negotiations, as part of a last push by US President Bill Clinton who leaves office in less than two weeks' time.


Jerusalem is the heart of our people and we cannot give away our heart

Natan Sharansky, rally organiser
But the crowds in Jerusalem were implacably opposed to the proposals.

Ehud Olmert, Israel's right-wing mayor of Jerusalem, told the rally: "Don't be the first president in the history of your country to propose the division of the historical and eternal capital of the Jewish people.

"We are a nation with long memories that go back thousands of years.

"We never forgive those who dare to raise their hands against our most precious treasures," he said.

Talks blow

Natan Sharansky, one of the rally organisers, said: "[Jerusalem] was the centre of our dreams, of our prayers and of our struggle.

"It is the heart of our people and we cannot give away our heart."

Prospects for peace have already dived in recent days with the outbreak of more clashes and the winding up of Israeli-Palestinian-US talks in Cairo without any sign of a return to security co-operation.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledged in a US television interview that a comprehensive deal was highly unlikely before President Clinton left office.

Palestinians await lifting of roadblock in Gaza
Palestinians are demanding the lifting of the Israeli blockade
The Cairo talks broke up with Israel demanding that the Palestinian Authority re-arrest dozens of Islamic militants it has released since the start of the popular uprising in September.

The Palestinians counter that Israel must first lift its blockade against the Palestinian territories, which has been in effect for most of that time.

Underlining the difficulties mediators face bringing the two sides together, the Palestinians' chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat said on Monday that Palestinians opposed drafting a "declaration of principles" that would be based on Mr Clinton's peace proposals and would guide future talks with Israel.

He said: "We will not accept any kind of pressure."

Officially the leadership's position as outlined in Washington by Yasser Arafat remains that it is prepared to accept the Clinton parameters but with significant reservations.

Support for refugees

Displaced Palestinians infographic
There have also been angry scenes in the Palestinian territories where marches have been held in support of Arab refugees' right of return to what is now Israel - a right the US has been urging the Palestinian leadership to waive for the sake of peace talks.

There were similar demonstrations staged by refugees in Lebanon, whose exiled Palestinian population has grown to about 360,000 people since the first refugees arrived in 1948.

Three marchers were shot with rubber bullets by Israeli soldiers on the edge of Ramallah, reports said.

Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces overnight. More than 350 people have died in the three-and-a-half months of clashes, the overwhelming majority of them Palestinians.

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See also:

08 Jan 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Israelis march on Jerusalem
04 Jan 01 | Middle East
Arab rulers cool on Intifada
31 Dec 00 | Middle East
Barak: It's me or war
26 Dec 00 | Media reports
Israeli press wary of Clinton plan
23 Oct 00 | Middle East
Claiming the 'Promised Land'
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