JERUSALEM, JAN. 30 -- Israeli troops fired on hundreds of demonstrators in the West Bank today, and Palestinian sources said 15 persons were hit. In all, 24 persons were reported hurt in clashes in the occupied territories.
Protests also rocked the Gaza Strip, shattering three weeks of relative quiet in the lands seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir meanwhile welcomed a new U.S. peace initiative, which he said was close to his own program for renewing negotiations on the basis of a 1978 autonomy plan. That plan calls for establishing Palestinian self-rule in the occupied territories for a five-year interim period, but leaves key elements of sovereignty, including security and foreign affairs, in Israeli hands during that time.
"The thinking of the U.S. administration is largely similar to ours," said Shamir in an interview broadcast over Israel radio.
In the West Bank city of Nablus and at nearby Balata refugee camp, hundreds of protesters clashed throughout the day with troops using tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.
The Palestine Press Service, which supports the outlawed Palestine Liberation Organization, reported 15 persons were wounded there, three seriously. A military spokeswoman said there were only two injuries -- a Palestinian wounded by gunfire and a soldier slightly injured by a rock.
A doctor at Ittihad hospital in Nablus said the hospital admitted at least seven injured protesters, including one seriously wounded man.
Work at the hospital was disrupted when Israeli soldiers stormed it and arrested dozens of Palestinians, according to a witness who spoke on condition of anonymity. An Army spokesman said he was investigating the report.
The violence in Nablus, with 100,000 people the largest city in the West Bank, appeared to be the most serious in the occupied territories since the Army initiated a new policy of beating Palestinian protesters nine days ago. Before that at least 39 Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire during protests that began Dec. 9 in the occupied territories, according to United Nations figures.
The Army declared Nablus a closed military zone and ordered reporters out. It clamped a curfew on the Balata camp.
In Gaza City, merchants closed their stores and Israeli troops clashed with student demonstrators who burned tires and chanted anti-Israel slogans. An Arab reporter in Gaza, who refused to be identified for fear of reprisal, said soldiers charged the demonstrators with tear gas and beat those they caught. Seven Palestinians were sent to hospitals with bruises and broken bones, he said.