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Clashes resume; Barak says he's close to coalition government

Updated:

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters clashed on several fronts Sunday, with two Palestinians killed and four wounded in a West Bank town.

In the town of Nablus, Palestinians threw stones and firebombs and then opened fire with guns, prompting Israeli soldiers to respond in kind, the Israeli army said. Suleiman Narkib, a Palestinian doctor who was at the site, denied the army report, saying he did not see any gunfire coming from the Palestinian side.

The shooting in Nablus was the worst of several confrontations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Sunday. On another front, Israeli soldiers fortifying a fence along the country's northern border were shot at from the Lebanese side, the army said. Stones were also thrown toward soldiers near the Fatima Gate crossing but there were no injuries in either incident, the army added.

Elsewhere, 20-year-old Palestinian Fadi Amin Dabaya died Sunday, two days after being shot in the head during a clash with troops in the West Bank city of Jenin. His death and the two in Nablus raised the overall count to 136 since the clashes erupted more than a month ago. The vast majority of the dead and injured have been Palestinians.

Palestinian demonstrators took Dabaya's body as it was being removed from a hospital in the nearby city of Nablus and carried it toward a protest march attended by some 2,000 activists. The marchers were headed in the direction of an Israeli military checkpoint south of Nablus, the scene of frequent clashes over the past month.

In one of the restive Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, a guerrilla from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah group was killed and two other people were wounded Sunday in a gunbattle with Muslim fundamentalists, Palestinian officials said.

On Saturday, Israeli troops fought Arab stone throwers with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas at chronic trouble spots in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, leaving more than 50 Palestinians injured. Though the confrontations also included at least a dozen shooting attacks on Israeli soldiers and a homemade bomb thrown at a border police patrol, no one was killed _ a rarity since violence erupted a month ago.

The violence has dealt a harsh blow to the already anemic Palestinian economy. More than 100,000 Palestinians work in Israel, many providing the only income for large families, and tens of thousands of them have been unable to reach their jobs. Also, trade with Jordan and Egypt has been scaled back significantly, Palestinian officials said Sunday.

Ibrahim Hawamdi, a young Palestinian watching the clashes in the restive West Bank town of Ramallah, said Saturday that Palestinian anger was still running high. But ``people want to go back to work, they're running out of money,'' Hawamdi said.

The turmoil is also badly hurting the economy of Israel. Israeli economists estimate the losses so far at more than $1 billion, with the tourism business the hardest hit. Many sectors of the Israeli economy, such as agriculture, are suffering from the lack of Palestinian laborers.

On the political front, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that after a week of tough negotiations he was close to forming a parliamentary coalition that could prevent the collapse of his minority government.

Parliament reconvenes Monday following a three-month recess, and Barak was moving toward a deal with the opposition Likud party, led by the hawkish Ariel Sharon, in a bid to stay in power and stave off early elections.

Elsewhere, a Palestinian plane flew from Amman, Jordan to Baghdad on Sunday, carrying 20 Palestinians wounded in the clashes as well as several Palestinian officials and lawmakers. The move was a show of solidarity and a challenge to U.N. sanctions against Iraq,


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