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Tuesday, December 8, 1998 Published at 12:36 GMT

World: Middle East

Palestinian prisoner protests continue

More than 60 were injured in Monday's unrest

Clashes have continued for a fourth day in the West Bank, as Palestinians press for the release of more than 2,000 prisoners from Israeli jails.

Middle East
On the edge of the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian protestors took up positions behind makeshift barriers to hurl stones against Israeli troops.

Lyse Doucet in Jerusalem: "For a fourth day running the air was heavy with tear gas"
Israeli soldiers responded with tear gas, fired more rounds of percussion grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets.

On Monday, at least 60 people were inured during demonstrations across the West Bank and Gaza, as Palestinians stepped up their campaign for the release the prisoners.

[ image: Palestinian police is trying to contain the violence]
Palestinian police is trying to contain the violence
They say there cannot be peace until the prisoners walk free. But Israel says the Wye interim peace agreement - which was signed in Washington in October and includes the transfer of more West Bank land to Palestinian control - is now on hold until this violence ends and the Palestinian authority keeps its commitments.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is under pressure from his right wing to halt this process.

On Monday night, Mr Netanyahu won a temporary reprieve when a bill on early elections was changed to a motion of no confidence, giving him up to two weeks to try to shore up support for his government.

The BBC Correspondent in Jerusalem, Lyse Doucet, says the Wye accord is looking increasingly fragile, only days before the US President, Bill Clinton, is set to arrive to Israel.

Mr Clinton's visit, which begins on Saturday, is to be coupled with a stop in the Gaza Strip, the first by a sitting US president.

The US has repeatedly said the trip is not intended as an endorsement of Palestinian statehood aspirations, but correspondents say the Palestinians see it as a powerful boost to their sovereignty hopes.

'Blood on their hands'

Palestinian protesters have been clashing with Israeli troops regularly since Israel last month released 250 of the 750 prisoners promised under the Wye peace accord.

[ image: Palestinians demand the release of prisoners]
Palestinians demand the release of prisoners
But the Palestinians say more than half were common criminals rather than political prisoners.

Mr Netanyahu has said he has made it clear he would not free Palestinian prisoners with "blood on their hands".

There are reports that a mass hunger strike by the prisoners themselves has now spread to more Israeli jails.

A prisoners' association said the hunger strike now included all 3,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails, although the Israeli Prisons Service said it knows of only 514 taking part.

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