RAMALLAH, West Bank – Violence continued in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Saturday despite U.S. pressure to end the bloodshed and a call by the Palestinian Authority to end all attacks against Israelis.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops shot a Palestinian man who was passing through a checkpoint, according to reports. Palestinian doctors say the man bled to death when Palestinian ambulances were prevented from reaching the man by soldiers; Israeli army officials deny that ambulances were prevented from reaching the man.
In the Gaza Strip, several violent incidents took place. In one, an unknown number of Palestinians were hit by an Israeli tank shell while they were apparently trying to lay an explosive near a border fence, Israeli radios reported. In another, at least four mortar shells were fired at Israeli posts, causing no injuries.
Earlier Saturday, the Palestinian cabinet issued a statement asking Palestinian groups to "cease fire completely and stop all military operations against Israelis. These operations do not serve our national cause at all."
How — or if — Palestinian groups will respond to the Authority's statement is not yet known. Many of the recent violent incidents have been carried out by gunmen linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.
Each side blames the other for the surge in violence, with Palestinians saying that Israel provoked the surge by renewing its policy of killing militants and Israel saying it has been forced to act because Arafat has not done enough to round up militants.
On Friday, the President Bush said he was "very disappointed" with Arafat over a shipment of weapons that was apparently headed for the Palestinians. The shipment was intercepted by Israel last month in the Red Sea.
Bush is reportedly considering sanctions against the Palestinians, including severing all diplomatic ties.
Arafat himself responded on Saturday to harsh U.S. criticism, appealing to the American people by comparing the Palestinian struggle against Israel to the American revolution.
"Did you ever accept the British occupation of the United States?" Arafat asked in a program on the Qatari satellite channel Al-Jazeera. "Didn't George Washington fight, along with his people, until they freed the United States?"
Arafat has been confined to his compound in Ramallah for almost two months, and Israel says he will not be allowed to leave Ramallah until he arrests suspects in the killing of an Israeli Cabinet minister last October.
On Saturday, about 2,000 Palestinians rallied outside the compound to show support for Arafat. An official from the Islamic Hamas militant group, however, said he believed Arafat had lost popularity since he began detaining militants.
"Yet, I don't believe that there is a well prepared successor to Yasser Arafat," Moussa Abu Marzook said.
Some of those attending the rally in Ramallah were invited to speak to Arafat, who echoed comments he made a few days earlier and said he was willing to die to see a Palestinian state with a capital in east Jerusalem.
"Please God, give me the honor of being one of the holy Jerusalem martyrs," Arafat said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.