A campaign by Jewish settlers to occupy West Bank hilltops erupted in violence Sunday when Palestinians tried to take back an encampment near the city of Ramallah and settlers responded with gunfire. One Palestinian was shot in the chest and died.
It was the first death in the settlers’ month-old campaign of land seizures and road blockades seeking to stop the expansion of Palestinian rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The clash occurred as the Israeli Cabinet approved a partial agreement to expand Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank that was forged last week by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.
The Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin approved the accord with the Palestinians despite the concerns of top security officials that the deal - which includes an army redeployment in the West Bank - will hamper the army’s ability to fight terrorism.
Sunday’s events were evidence of the rising level of tension and public discord as the country moves toward the second stage of the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and prepares to hand over West Bank lands that were captured by the Israeli army in the 1967 Middle East War.
The settlers’ campaign against the 1993 accord has become increasingly militant in recent weeks, and a fatal confrontation between settlers and Arabs had been feared. Many of the settlers carry weapons as a matter of course.