Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops claimed more than a dozen lives over the weekend. . The trigger for the violence was the visit by Israel's opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, on Thursday, to the disputed Jerusalem hilltop known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif. In clashes at the compound on Friday, six Palestinians were killed and nearly 200 wounded. Thousands of rioters armed with stones confronted armed soldiers in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. One victim was a 14-year-old boy who died in Nablus. Palestinian officials said this weekend that 18 Palestinians have been killed and about 700 wounded in the rioting and Israel said 11 members of the security forces members have been injured. "The battle for Jerusalem has begun," said Bassem Naim, an activist of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank town of Nablus. The worst violence erupted south of Nablus, where thousands of angry Palestinians hurled stones at Israeli troops manning a checkpoint. At first, Israeli soldiers fired rubber-coated steel pellets to keep back the crowd. Thick smoke from burning tyres rose into the air and rocks littered the street. At one point, about a dozen masked Palestinians, crouching behind walls and olive trees, fired on Israeli troops with M-16 assault rifles. Israeli troops returned fire in a gun battle lasted more than an hour. Casualty figures have not been released yet. Clashes also erupted across the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. In the West Bank town of Jenin, one Palestinian protester was shot dead, and in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis, another was unconscious, doctors said. Commentators fear there will be more violence over the coming days. A general strike throughout the West Bank has closed shops and schools. On Sunday, it spread to Arab Israeli communities inside Israel.
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