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Israeli soldiers use new weapon against Palestinian rioters

By DENYSE TANNENBAUM

JERUSALEM -- Israeli soldiers shot back stones at rock-throwing Palestinian rioters Wednesday with a newly developed cannon that fires gravel chips accurately at high velocity, Israeli reports said.

An army spokesman, Col. Arik Gordon, termed the snow blower-like gravel gun effective at dispersing crowds of violent protesters.

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'It is very noisy,' Gordon said. 'It has a range of about 100 yards and it is a sort of blower.'

The new weapon was used for the first time Monday during a demonstration in Nablus in the occupied West Bank, the army said.

The purpose of the cannon, which still is being tested, is to limit physical contact between soldiers and rioters and keep the number of injuries to a minimum, the army said.

'The surprised 'shebab' (Palestinian youths) scattered all over finding it difficult to believe that they, the experts on rock-throwing, were absorbing an unexpected shower of stones,' the daily newspaper Ma'ariv said.

The cannon was used a second time Wednesday in the West Bank village of Kalkilya, the Israeli radio said.

Army weapons experts have been testing the cannon for several weeks to determine its impact and its effectiveness as a riot-control device. The spokesman had no information about the manufacturer of the weapon.

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Ma'ariv described the cannon as a shooting arm mounted on an armored halftrack, loaded with a large amount of gravel for ammunition. When activated, it sprays a hail of gravel in any directions with great force and accuracy, it said.

The use of the gravel cannon comes after wood and fiberglass clubs, tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition have failed to quell the fervor of the stone-throwing and fire bomb-flinging Palestinian rioters, now in their fourth month of violent protests of the nearly 21-year Israeli occupation.

Israel has been severely criticized internationally for its use of physical force, including beatings, and live ammunition to disperse violent demonstrators. An army spokesman said the military was continuing to look for new ways to crush demonstrations more effectively with fewer casualties.

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