BEIT UMMAR, FEB. 8 -- As Israeli soldiers stood by silently, hundreds of residents of this West Bank Arab village, perched above the main Jerusalem-Hebron highway, poured into a wind-swept cemetery this afternoon to mourn three young men shot dead yesterday in a confrontation with the Army.
It was a funeral without corpses for a village that until yesterday morning had managed to dodge the wave of violence sweeping the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Army ordered two of the victims buried last night and withheld the body of the third until this evening to minimize the risk that the funerals would set off new violence -- as happened this morning in Gaza.
Dozens of remote villages like Beit Ummar are being sucked into the violence. New names appear every day on the Army's list of unrest areas. The body count is rising as well, with at least nine new shooting fatalities in the past week following a two-week hiatus in which no one was killed.
There were scattered incidents of violence today in Gaza, the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, and two more Palestinians died in mysterious circumstances that appeared related to the unrest.
Bernard Mills, chief of operations for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, said soldiers beat to death 15-year-old Iyad Mohammed Aqel after taking him from his home in the Bureij refugee camp, which the U.N. agency oversees. A 15-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl were wounded by gunfire this morning in a stone-throwing confrontation with soldiers that followed the funeral, according to Mills, the senior U.N. official in Gaza.
An Army spokesman said the cause of Aqel's death could not be determined because the family had snatched the body from Shifa hospital in Gaza City before an official autopsy could be performed. But a staff member at Shifa said the boy died of massive trauma all over his body.
Another unexplained death occurred in the village of Kfar Qaddum near Nablus in the West Bank when a 27-year-old man was shot in the head. A military spokesman said no soldiers were in the area at the time and the Army was checking a report that the man had been shot by a Jewish settler from nearby Kedumim.
The military spokesman also said that a 15-year-old Gazan who died from a head injury yesterday had a history of brain hemorrhages and had not been killed by soldiers. Doctors at Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem said the youth's injuries were consistent with a blow to the head and his father claimed he had been struck by soldiers.
The two new victims today bring to at least 51 the number of Palestinian dead in the violence that began Dec. 9 in Gaza, but the Army has confirmed killing only 42 people and the other deaths remain unclear. The Army puts the number of Arab wounded at 397, although U.N. officials and various hospital sources say more than 800 have been injured.
At least a half-dozen Arab communities remained under military curfew in the West Bank, including Beit Ummar, where residents were allowed to leave their homes for two hours this afternoon to buy food. But rather than go to the shops, many villagers headed to the cemetery.
"We know they will not bring the body now but we are waiting," said a friend of one of the families of the dead. "It's just a kind of consolation."
The three who died yesterday apparently were killed by an Army sniper rifle. The Army says the rifles are a weapon of last resort, to be used when soldiers' lives are endangered. They are supposed to be more accurate than automatic weapons, thus making it easier to aim at the legs of rioters. But residents said the men killed yesterday were shot in the chest and abdomen.
While the villagers gathered, an old man shoveled away dirt from the family crypt. There were three artificial flowers taped to a handwritten cardboard sign with a verse from the Koran: "Those who are killed in the path of God are dead, but they live forever with God."
The man who was to be buried today was Taysir Abdullah Awad, 18. His father, a farmer, and his mother were too stricken to attend, but an aunt, Naima Alami, led the mourners. She sat on a stone wall with other women from the village and wept quietly into a handkerchief.
She said Awad was one of nine brothers and five sisters. He was a junior in high school and had plans to study at a university.
When press photographers arrived, the villagers briefly chanted slogans and gave the "V" sign. But most of the time they stood in silence, waiting for a hearse that never arrived.
"You may be sure from all who are standing here that there will not be peace," said a family friend who refused to be identified. "After all, we are human beings. Imagine yourself, how you would feel if they killed your brother?"
One of the women near Naima Alami started to wail, and suddenly many were crying loudly. "We don't want money, we don't want anything," a woman screamed. "We just want Palestine."
The military commander in charge of the West Bank, Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, has denied that soldiers have received new orders to open fire on rioters. A military spokesman reiterated tonight that the new shooting deaths result from decisions made by officers at the scene when riots threaten the lives of their men.
Mitzna told a meeting of Jewish settlers in Efrat late last night that the unrest eventually would recede. "Maybe it will take time," he said. "Maybe people will be hurt. We have to be patient."