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Originally published Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Violence trumps talks for Palestinians, new poll says

A new poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Palestinians support the attack this month on a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem that killed...

The New York Times

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A new poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Palestinians support the attack this month on a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem that killed eight young men, most of them teenagers, an indication of the alarming level of Israeli-Palestinian tension in recent weeks.

The survey also shows unprecedented support for the shooting of rockets on Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip and for the end of the peace negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

The pollster, Khalil Shikaki, said he was shocked because the survey showed greater support for violence than any other he had conducted over the past 15 years in the Palestinian areas.

His Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, which conducts a survey every three months, is widely viewed as among the few independent and reliable gauges of Palestinian public opinion.

His explanation for the shift, one widely reflected in the Palestinian media, is that recent actions by Israel, especially attacks on Gaza that killed nearly 130 people, an undercover operation in Bethlehem that killed four militants, and the announced expansion of several West Bank settlements, have led to despair and rage among average Palestinians.

Shikaki's poll also showed the Islamist group Hamas is gaining popularity in the West Bank while its U.S.-backed rival, the more secular Fatah, is losing ground. Asked for whom they would vote for president, 46 percent chose Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, who now is president, and 47 percent chose Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. Three months ago, Abbas was ahead 56 percent to 37 percent.

After Hamas forces pushed Fatah forces out of Gaza last summer, Shikaki's polls showed the Palestinian public to be disillusioned with Hamas. Many argued that Abbas, with the support of Washington and Israel, had an opportunity to win public support by easing living conditions and advancing in negotiations. That has not happened.

According to the poll, conducted last week with 1,270 Palestinians, 84 percent supported the March 6 attack on the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, one of Israel's most prominent centers of religious Zionism and ideological wellspring of the settler movement in the West Bank. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

On negotiations between Ehud Olmert, prime minister of Israel, and Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, three-fourths said they were without benefit and should end. Regarding the thousands of rockets that have been launched on Israeli towns like Sderot and Ashkelon, 64 percent back them.

The poll did show support for a two-state solution over the long term, with 66 percent favoring normalized relations with Israel if it returned all land won in 1967 and a Palestinian state was established.

German leader vows to stand by Israel

JERUSALEM — German Chancellor Angela Merkel earned a standing ovation from Israel's parliament Tuesday after pledging to stand by Israel's side against any threat, particularly from Iran, and paying tribute to Holocaust victims.

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In an emotional speech, Merkel said Germans are still "filled with shame" about the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews.

Germany has proved to be a staunch ally of Israel, particularly since Merkel became chancellor. Israel's leaders said they are counting on Germany to take a lead in diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

"I think that we were able to open a new chapter in German-Israeli relations," Merkel later told Germany's n-tv television, brushing aside suggestions her strong support for Israel could make Germany appear biased against the Palestinians.

"We're on Israel's side and despite that, and perhaps because of that, on the side of the peace process," she said.

The Associated Press

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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