An undercover Israeli police officer brandishes a gun as others detain a Palestinian suspected of throwing stones in East Jerusalem on Friday during a protest against the Israeli offensive in Gaza. (AFP)
Jerusalem, July 25: Violence spread to the West Bank today as enraged Palestinians protested Israel’s continuing military offensive in Gaza.
At least five Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces, according to Palestinian medical officials and local news reports, adding to the explosive atmosphere in the region and raising the spectre of further unrest.
The protests came on what Palestinians planned as a “day of rage” over the war in Gaza, where 18 days of combat have cost the lives of more than 800 Palestinians, most of them civilians, as well as 33 Israeli soldiers. Three civilians in Israel have also been killed in rocket and mortar fire from Gaza. Following an international outcry over a deadly strike yesterday on a school in Gaza where civilians had taken refuge, secretary of state John Kerry and other diplomats pressed their efforts today to arrange a truce.
Palestinians planned to mount demonstrations in Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank on the last Friday of Ramazan, known as Al Quds Day. A spokesman for the Israeli police said that sporadic disturbances broke out in some East Jerusalem neighbourhoods early in the afternoon, as 10,000 Muslims attended prayers in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.
Hoping to head off trouble, Israeli authorities barred men under 50 from entering the compound.
Weeks of simmering tensions and outbursts of violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has increased talk among Israelis and Palestinians alike about the spectre of a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising. But many said that such uprisings, by their nature, could not be planned or predicted.
“The intifada does not start by a decision and end by a decision,” said Othman Abu Gharbiya, a member of the Fatah central committee, a decision-making body of the mainstream secular party that dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Still, he said, “no doubt we are passing through a dangerous time”.
Trouble erupted last night during a march at the Qalandia checkpoint that separates the West Bank town of Ramallah from Jerusalem. Thousands of marchers chanted, “With our soul and blood, we will redeem Gaza,” and clashes broke out between stone-throwing youths and Israeli security forces. One Palestinian teenager was killed and scores were wounded.
The funeral of the youth, Muhammad al-Araj, 17, drew thousands of mourners today. His father, Ziad al-Araj, 41, a plasterer from the nearby Qalandia refugee camp, said that after seeing the bodies of women and children killed in Gaza on television, his son had told him that he wanted to join the fighters there. “He wrote in his phone, ‘I hope to be a martyr,’” Araj said.
The imam at the Qalandia camp’s mosque assailed Israel in his Friday sermon, shouting in fury, “Kill me, cut me into pieces, drown me in blood, you will never live in my land, you will never live in my sky!”
The spokesman for the Israeli police, Micky Rosenfeld, said that 40 Palestinians were arrested during clashes overnight in East Jerusalem, and 29 Israeli officers were wounded.
Two of the Palestinians who were killed today were shot near Hawara, just south of Nablus, according to a medical official at Rafadiyeh Hospital in Nablus. Palestinian news reports said that at least one of them was shot by a female Israeli settler, but the Israeli authorities denied that.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli military said that an Israeli woman got out of her vehicle and fired in the air as about 200 Palestinians were rioting near Hawara, blocking the road and hurling rocks. The spokeswoman said she had no further information about the event.