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The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"In Jerusalem the focus will centre on Friday's prayers in the Old City"
 real 56k

"The peace process is in a critical moment"
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Hanan Ashwari, Palestinian legislative council
"Palestinians have been on the receiving end"
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Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israeli government minister
"We are willing to sit down"
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Friday, 13 October, 2000, 10:38 GMT
Mid-East braces for more violence
Arafat visiting injured in hospital
Yasser Arafat: 'The march to Jerusalem continues'
Thousands of Israeli soldiers are positioned around Al-Aqsa mosque in central Jerusalem as Palestinians attend Friday prayers - prayers which it is feared may spark new violence across Israel and the Palestinian territories.

It was a visit to the mosque compound by right-wing Israeli leader Ariel Sharon which provoked the latest upsurge of the conflict, and the clashes which followed the prayers two weeks ago which brought the first deaths.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has invited Mr Sharon to join a national emergency government, a move which a BBC correspondent in Jerusalem describes as a huge provocation to Palestinians.

It comes after Israeli helicopter gunships carried out further attacks in the West Bank on Thursday night, firing rockets at a Palestinian police academy in Jericho after a synagogue in the town was set on fire by Palestinians.

Israeli troops are searching all those entering the mosque, and turning away men under 45 years old.

Correspondents say the West Bank has also been sealed off.

International intervention

Early on Friday, Mr Barak called a meeting with Mr Sharon to discuss the security situation, but the leader of the Likud party has made no public response to the offer to join the government.

Scene at Ramallah police station
A Palestinian shows off blood on his hands where the Israelis were killed
The United Nations has expressed its grave concern about the escalation in the crisis, but rejected a Palestinian request for an emergency meeting of the Security Council.

The Palestinian Authority had demanded that the UN condemn Israel over rocket attacks in the Gaza and West Bank on Thursday.

The Palestinians say Israel's move was a de facto declaration of war, and appealed for international intervention.

Israel launched the air raids after two of its soldiers were killed by a mob in the Palestinian town of Ramallah.

It now says three soldiers were killed in the attack by the crowd.

Helicopter gunships also targeted the offices of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah and the headquarters of its leader, Yasser Arafat, in Gaza.

On Friday, Mr Arafat ordered the arrest of the Palestinians who killed the Israeli soldiers. Later he is due to meet the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.

'No partner for peace'

Many Israelis see this as the worst crisis they have faced for years, and security forces are on high alert.

Mr Barak said he no longer saw the Palestinian leader as a partner for peace.

Demonstration in Ramallah
Palestinians staged protests in Ramallah after the Israeli air raids
He also described the release of Hamas militants as a blatant violation of agreements with the Palestinian Authority.

The move would make Mr Arafat responsible for any terrorist attacks that might follow, he warned.

Hamas officials say dozens of their militants have been released from prisons in Palestinian-controlled areas, including Gaza and Nablus in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Mr Arafat's Fatah organisation has called for a general mobilisation of its militants.


Israel's use of force has been strongly condemned in the Arab world.

Ramallah police station under fire
Israeli helicopters opened fire on a number of targets
The US says it has detected large-scale Iraqi troop movements north and west of Baghdad.

It says the deployments are being closely watched in case Iraqi President Saddam Hussein prepares to launch an attack.

President Clinton condemned the murder of Israeli soldiers, but urged both sides to observe an immediate ceasefire.

"Now is the time to stop the bloodshed, to restore calm, to return to dialogue and ultimately to the peace process," he said.

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