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Page last updated at 14:19 GMT, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 15:19 UK

Villagers hurt in West Bank clash

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Police fire bullets as Israelis and Palestinians clash

Fifteen Palestinian have been injured, one seriously, in clashes near an Israeli settlement where a Palestinian killed a youth with an axe last week.

Israel's military said Palestinians began throwing stones as settlers marked a Jewish blessing on a hilltop.

Palestinians say settlers from Beit Ayin tried to enter Safa, a nearby Palestinian village, throwing rocks and firing in the air.

Israeli forces say they fired live bullets at the legs of stone-throwers.

Bat Ayin map

Paramedics at the scene told the BBC that a 20-year-old was in a critical condition after being hit in the neck with a live round.

Several of the injured had been hit by live ammunition, the paramedics said.

The Israeli military said Palestinians had begun throwing stones at settlers from Bat Ayin in the southern West Bank, who had gone to a hilltop to say a special sun blessing prayer in an event which occurs once every 28 years.

Safa residents say the settlers than tried to enter the village, while locals tried to stop them.

Israeli soldiers arrived along with the settlers, firing tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition, the residents said.

Israeli soldier fires tear gas in Safa village, West Bank
Israel forces fired tear gas and live rounds

An Israeli military spokesperson said "crowd dispersing means" were used initially, but when the crowd became more violent, troops used live ammunition to target the lower body parts of some people in the crowd, and "identified hits".

The BBC's Katya Adler reported from the scene that the troops were trying to push back a group of rock-throwing young Palestinian men.

The soldiers had taken over a number of houses in the village and were flying Israeli flags from the roof tops, our correspondent said.

Axe attack

About 1,000 Israelis live in the settlement of Bat Ayin, between the towns of Hebron and Bethlehem.

Last week, a Palestinian armed with an axe killed a 13-year-old boy and injured a seven-year-old in the settlement.

In 2002, three residents of the settlement were given long jail terms for trying to blow up a Palestinian girls' school in Jerusalem.

In response to the axe attack last week, the new right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu said it would take a tough line on security in the West Bank and elsewhere.

Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

The violence comes amid concerns over a clash of opinion between the new government and Barack Obama's US administration.

Mr Obama has stressed his commitment to a two-state solution, but Mr Netanyahu does not back the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state.

His foreign minister, far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman, said on Tuesday that peace talks with the Palestinians had reached a "dead end".

Protesting against international pressure, he said: "We have never interfered with other people's affairs and we expect of others not stand with a stopwatch in hand."



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