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Middle East

Five Palestinians die during the West Bank's 'day of rage'

Four Palestinians are shot by IDF soldiers, while an Israeli settler fatally shoots a Palestinian

Five Palestinians were killed yesterday as clashes intensified in the West Bank in solidarity with Palestinians under Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, while activists asserted that a new uprising against Israeli occupation is taking shape.

The fatalities came a day after a mass protest at an Israeli military checkpoint here drew more than 10,000 people in the biggest show of identification with Gazans since Israel launched its devastating Operation Protective Edge 18 days ago with the stated goal of halting Hamas rocket fire. A 17-year-old resident of the camp who was demonstrating, Mohammed al-Araj, was killed by Israeli fire and more than 200 people were wounded by rubber-coated metal bullets or live fire, according to Palestinian hospital officials. Another youth, Majed Sufian was killed, according to Palestinian medics.

Yesterday three Palestinians were killed in clashes that erupted during protests in solidarity with Gaza held after Friday mosque prayers in Beit Umar in the southern West Bank, the Maan news agency reported, adding that at least 10 people were wounded by army live fire or rubber-coated metal bullets. In the northern West Bank town of Hawara, one Palestinian was killed by army gunfire and another by fire from an Israeli settler, Maan reported, adding that four people were wounded by the settler fire.

Israel's Ynet news agency quoted the local settlers council as saying a settler woman had fired in the air when her vehicle came under attack. Ynet also quoted army sources as saying 200 Palestinians threw rocks and rolled burning tires during the Hawara clashes and that the settler woman was taken by Israeli authorities for questioning. Clashes also erupted at Beit El in the central West Bank and in Wadi Joz, a Palestinian neighbourhood of Jerusalem.

The surge in violence is raising the possibility that a second front of the war is opening in the occupied West Bank as Israel continues its Gaza operation.

''It's a real possibility that we are moving towards a new Intifada (uprising) when you look at the numbers who turned out yesterday and the fact that people of all backgrounds came,'' said Abdul-Nasar Faraj, who works in an international non-governmental organisation, referring to the protests on Thursday night. Mr Farraj said the shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza on Thursday gave people here the sense ''that they can't take it anymore in terms of how innocents are targeted.''

Mustafa Abu Ramouz, a 40-year-old activist in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, said he was witness to the shooting of Mr al-Araj. He denied the army's account that Palestinians used live fire during the protest. He said that women, children and old men were among the marchers in solidarity with Gaza and that youths threw firecrackers in the air. “Then a sniper shot Mohammed in the head, he died on the spot.” It was after that that stone throwing started, he said. An army spokeswoman said that “thousands of rioters took part in a violent and illegal riot, shooting live fire, throwing Molotov cocktails and rolling burning tires at soldiers.” Troops responded with “riot dispersal means and live fire” and soldiers reported hitting “the main agitators,” the spokeswoman said.

The mass participation was reminiscent of the first and second Intifada uprisings, something that was not lost on Mr Abu Ramous. “This is the beginning of the Intifada,” he told The Independent. He said the spark for it was actually the burning to death of a 16-year-old Palestinian, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, by Israelis earlier this month that set off clashes with security forces. “This Intifada will continue until the end of occupation. It will focus on settlers until we force the settlers and army to leave.” he said.

Abdullah Abdullah, a Palestinian legislator and supporter of Mr Abbas, a moderate who has spoken out repeatedly against a third Intifada, said Palestinian police can no longer stop demonstrations, as they did at the beginning of the war. “Abu Mazen (Abbas) can't appear to be siding with America and Israel,” said Mr Abdullah who attended the Qalandia demonstration. “It's his people being killed and his dream of national unity being attacked. Police can't block these demonstrations. If there were a thousand police last night they wouldn't have been able to stop the people and we are not there to prevent the expression of feelings.”

Mr Abdullah added: “No one can control the street. It's become very tense and everything is possible.” However analysts say there is no leadership for an uprising and that many West Bankers are still wary of the violence and chaos it would entail.

However, the fuel may come from destitute places like Qalandia, where many people feel they have little to lose. A 15-year-old boy who threw stones at the demonstration told The Independent he is not afraid of meeting the fate of al-Araj, whom he knew. ''The opposite. I'll be happy. I'll go to heaven and make my family proud."

Religious hate was thrown into the volatile mix yesterday. As al-Araj's body lay in the mosque here in advance of his funeral, the imam, or prayer leader, called on God to kill “the criminal Jews”.

He told hundreds of worshippers that Jews are “corrupt, rotten and the reason for all calamities.”

Referring to Gaza, the imam said: “What we are witnessing are murders, killing of children, destruction of houses that is a reflection of the Jewish hatred, the poisonous hatred.”