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Hebron: West Bank Tinderbox

Prospects for coexistence evaporate under tight curfew, mounting Palestinian frustration

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AT a cavernous and gloomy warehouse in this bloodied West Bank town, mourners gathered on March 8 to pay their last respects to Wael Natsheh.

Shot dead by soldiers on March 7 as he threw stones at an Israeli Army jeep, Wael's youthful face beamed out from a portrait hung at the entrance to the family business. Draping the picture was the scarf he had been wearing wrapped round his head when he was killed.

Torn by the bullet, the black scarf bore a text, woven into it in angular Arabic script from white wool: ``There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his Prophet,'' one of the five basic tenets of Islam.

A green flag emblazoned with crossed scimitars beneath a Koran -

the banner of the radical Islamist group Hamas - was pinned to the wall of the warehouse, beneath the Palestinian flag, in another indication of 20-year-old Wael's political and religious leanings. And the mood amongst the mourners was bitter.

``So long as there is one settler or one soldier in Hebron, our martyrs will continue to fall,'' predicted Nabil Natshe, Wael's older brother. ``This will only end when there are none of them left in Hebron.''

It is not only Hamas militants, who believe the only solution to the Palestinian problem is to wipe out Israel, who are angry in Hebron now. For 12 days - ever since Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein mowed down at least 30 Muslim worshipers in Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs, the main mosque - the town has been clamped under a 24-hour curfew, and people are seething with rage.

The Israeli military authorities are in a quandary. They know that every new day the curfew is imposed, Hebron's residents only grow more resentful.

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