Israeli Army troops opened fire on demonstrating Palestinian students in the occupied West Bank today for the second consecutive day, wounding nine of them as unrest spread after the military governor closed an Arab university.
The occupation command attempted to impose a news blackout on the disturbances, ordering reporters out of the West Bank when they sought to interview the wounded students.
A spokesman for the military governor said that, in a shift from earlier policy of using tear gas, Israeli troops had standing order to disperse Palestinian demonstrators by first shooting into the air. Then, if the warning is ignored, he added, they are to shoot at the legs of protesters.
The demonstrations yesterday and today, the most violent in some time, were touched off by Saturday's order shutting down Bir Zeit University, the largest Palestinian educational institution on the West Bank and a center of nationalist sentiment.
The order was handed down after students tried to hold their annual "Palestine Week" festival that includes poetry and songs with Palestinian nationalist themes. Israeli authorities said that violated a restriction on political activities.
Army Maj. Gen. Danny Matt, coordinator of the occupied territories, told Israeli television that Bir Zeit is the "center of all violence" in the Ramallah area and that orders had been sent from abroad to reactivate West Bank unrest. He presumably was referring to Yassar Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut.
Since the deportation of three leading West Bank political figures in May and assassination attempts on three mayors a month later, the West Bank has been relatively free of protests.
One student who was shot today at Bethlehem University suffered a serious wound in the abdomen when soldiers perched on a rooftop fired into a crowded courtyard below. Students were also shot and wounded in the main square of the West Bank town of Ramallah and at a nearby girl's high school. Periodically throughout the morning, the crackle of small-arms fire could be heard in Ramallah's city center as troops dispersed groups of youths.
One of the injured was Haniah Baramki, the 14-year-old daughter of Gabi Baramki, acting president of Bir Zeit University. Her mother, Haifa Baramki, called the incidents "licensed terror."
Five students -- three boys and two girls -- were shot in here, and four male students were shot at Bethlehem University. Yesterday, a 17-year-old girl was shot in front of her school in El Biera.
A French news agency correspondent who witnessed the Bethlehem shootings said students erected roadblocks outside the university and, when the first Army truck arrived, pelted it with stones from second-floor windows. Soldiers immediately began firing at the windows, he said, and later fired into a courtyard from the roof of a nearby building.
The military governor issued orders to security forces to expel all correspondents from the areas of disturbances. This correspondent and a British colleague were escorted out of the village of Bir Zeit by armed troops and, later, were led out of the Ramallah hospital and ordered to return to Jerusalem.
Capt. Ishai Cohen spokesman of the military government, said Ramallah, Bir Zeit and El Biera would remain closed to reporters indefinitely.
Cohen said the policy of shooting at student's legs was intended to break up demonstrations that could not be dispersed with warning shots in the air. Cohen said shooting was more effective than tear gas because when one or two students fall, the rest tend to run away.
"The soldiers know how to shoot. They try to hit the legs, not the body," Cohen said.
He added that soldiers have orders to fire their automatic rifles on single shot and not in bursts.
Mayor Elias Freij of Bethlkehem said his town, which was sealed off after the clashes, was "very tense."
"I think these provocations are unnecessary. The students should be allowed to demonstrate inside the campus. To shoot on them is something to be totally rejected," Freij said in a telephone interview.
In an unrelated incident, a moderate Gaza Strip official was shot dead today in his offices in what Israeli authoritis said appeared to be a political killing by Palestinian radicals.
Mohammed Aby Wahdi, head of the Jabilia Refugee Camp local council, had been known for his support of the Camp David treaty between Isreal and Egypt, which the PLO rejected. A curfew was placed on the area while police searched for the assailants.