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Cycle of Violence Continues in the Middle East - 2001-07-27

The Palestinian city of Nablus has been one of the most violent places in the West Bank since the Intifada, or uprising, against Israeli occupation erupted ten months ago. More than 60 Palestinians have been killed in Nablus and at least 700 wounded during the clashes. Israel has imposed a tight closure on the city, crippling the economy and making everyday life very difficult.

A red and white Palestinian ambulance leads a funeral procession through the winding streets of Nablus to Martyrs' Square.

Thousands of people have gathered here as masked men carry the coffin of Saleh Darwazeh, killed when Israeli soldiers blasted his car with surface-to-surface missiles from a military post on a hill overlooking the city.

Saleh Darwazeh was a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has carried out suicide attacks inside Israel.

The Israeli army says he was involved in several recent bombings that killed eight Israelis and wounded more than 100.

At the funeral, young Palestinian boys fire off live rounds from automatic weapons, as speakers vent their anger at the Israelis.

There are no posters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but some in the crowd sit on top of cars holding pictures of another man they regard as a hero Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

One man who attended the funeral, Ahmed Barari, says Palestinians are furious at Israel because of the blockade around Nablus, and the continuing assassinations of militants who live here. "I am angry like any Palestinian," Mr. Barari says. "I would like to smash them from the earth. Because they are trying to smash us, you know. They are making a genocide for the Palestinian people. It is a question of genocide. They are killing the child, they are killing the women, they are killing the sick man and they are killing the freedom fighters. They are killing everybody."

Emotions are at a fever pitch at this funeral, and many call for revenge against Israel.

Professor Abdul Fattah Jadar teaches English at a local university. He defends the fact that so many people at the funeral are carrying and firing weapons, saying Palestinians have no choice but to defend themselves. "We are the most peaceful people on earth," Mr. Jadar says. "But you know in order to achieve peace you have to ask the other party to pull back their forces from our camps, villages and cities. We are not violent by nature and we do not start violence. We only react to violence and this is our right. The right of even, you know, animals in the forest to defend themselves against their aggressors, and the Israelis are the aggressors."

Nablus prides itself on being the commercial center and a leading industrial city in the West Bank.

An Israeli blockade around the city has had a devastating impact. Unemployment has soared above 60 percent, businesses have shut down, and more than two-thirds of the people live below the poverty line.

In villages surrounding Nablus, Palestinians now travel by donkey or on foot. A trip that used to take minutes by car, now takes hours.

Ali Yassin lives in the small village of Boreen, a few kilometers from Nablus. "We have a hunger siege here," Mr. Yassin says. "We can't buy anything to eat. We have no medicine. Last night, my baby was crying all night. I said what happens if I want to take him to the doctor? Where will I go? If you go at night they will shoot us. In the day, there are no ways. No car, no driver, dares to cross these checking points. We are helpless here. We can't do anything but go home and pray to God to make it better."

The Governor of Nablus is Mahmoud Aloul. His son was shot in the head and killed by Israeli soldiers during clashes at the start of the intifada.

Speaking through a translator, the governor says armed resistance against Israel is the only alternative available to the Palestinians. "If this aggression continues," he says, "the only option left to us is to fight this aggression, is to resist this aggression, so only the resistance option is left for us."

Raanan Gissen is a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Mr. Gissen says the closure must be maintained around Nablus and other cities as part of the fight against terrorism. "Every time we lifted the closure, every time we opened the crossing points into Israel, we had another wave of terrorist attacks, another wave of car bombs," Mr. Gissen says. "At least when there is closure we have better control."

At the funeral of Saleh Darwazeh, 10 would-be suicide bombers in white robes and masks stand silently as his body is lowered into the ground.

Many people in the crowd shout for revenge.

Hamas says the ten will soon blow themselves up inside Israel, as others have done, in a continuing cycle of violence that shows no signs of ending anytime soon.