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The BBC's Orla Guerin in Jerusalem
"It doesn't take long for the casualties to come"
 real 56k

Sunday, 25 March, 2001, 21:47 GMT 22:47 UK
Clashes mar Mid-East inquiry
Israeli soldier prepares to throw a stun grenade at Palestinian protesters
The commission will report on six months of violence
At least 20 Palestinians and one Israeli have been injured in further clashes near the West Bank town of Nablus.


Israel may have the right to put others on trial, but certainly no one has the right to put the Jewish people and the State of Israel on trial

Ariel Sharon
The violence came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reluctantly met an international fact-finding mission headed by former US senator George Mitchell.

The international commission is meeting Mr Sharon at the end of a five-day visit looking into six months of violence in the region.

Even as they met, Palestinians in Nablus protesting against the continuing blockade imposed by Israel threw stones at troops, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Historic mistake

A few hours before the meeting on Sunday, Mr Sharon told Israeli radio he had no choice other than to meet the commission, but described the investigation into recent violence in the Palestinian territories as a "historic mistake".

George Mitchell
Mitchell: Difficult task
The prime minister said he rejected any links between the beginning of the Palestinian uprising and his controversial visit last September to a disputed holy site in Jerusalem.

Mr Sharon blamed the Palestinians for the violence saying it was a "strategic decision" of their leader, Yasser Arafat.

The Mitchell commission was set up after the Sharm el-Sheikh accord between former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Mr Arafat.

But Mr Sharon says his predecessor made a grave "historical mistake" by allowing the investigation, equating it with putting Israel before an international tribunal.

"Israel may have the right to put others on trial, but certainly no one has the right to put the Jewish people and the State of Israel on trial," he said.

Mr Sharon said the committee had overstepped its mandate on several issues.

He also accused Mr Arafat of violating all the other Sharm el-Sheikh understandings, leaving only the investigation in place.

Blame

Among the difficulties facing the Mitchell commission is the fact that Palestinians and Israelis disagree sharply over what it is supposed to achieve.

Ariel Sharon on his visit to disputed holy site
Sharon: No link between visit to disputed holy site and violence
Israel insists the team's job is not to apportion blame but to suggest ways of preventing future violence, while the Palestinians, want the mission to determine who is to blame.

Mr Sharon has made it clear he will reject any allegations that the unrest was sparked by his appearance at the site revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary.

"Everyone today knows that this was a strategic decision by Arafat, reached immediately after the end of the Camp David summit," he said.

"Arafat believed that by exerting pressure, or by launching a wave of terrorist attacks he could either get more from Israel or perhaps bring about international intervention."

So far the violence has left more than 400 dead, over 350 of them Palestinians.

The commission will presents their report to the UN and Washington next month.

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See also:

11 Dec 00 | Middle East
Mid-East mission begins delicate task
08 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Mitchell gets Middle East role
07 Feb 01 | Middle East
Ariel Sharon: Controversial hardliner
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