A Palestinian teenager was killed yesterday and an Israeli soldier critically wounded in clashes that erupted across the occupied West Bank.
Plumes of black smoke rose up at a checkpoint near to the key city of Ramallah yesterday as dozens of Palestinian protesters burned tires and threw rocks at Israeli soldiers, who fired back with tear gas and bullets.
The Israeli army then sped into downtown Bireh, near Ramallah, a rare action in daylight, after conducting a night of raids and mass arrests.
The Palestinian health ministry reported that Mahmoud Nakhla, 17, was fatally shot in the stomach with live ammunition during the fighting. The Israeli army had earlier reported that an Israeli soldier was wounded by a Palestinian who struck him with a rock.
Violence spiralled across other parts of the West Bank as tensions reached breaking point. On Thursday night, Jewish settlers beat up a Palestinian bus driver, Nidal Sake. In the West Bank cities of Nablus and Hebron yesterday, forces of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority violently broke up a demonstration by supporters of the rival Hamas movement, the militant group that runs Gaza.
Yesterday’s unrest was sparked by a week of attacks by Palestinians near Israeli settlements deemed illegal under international law.
On Thursday, a gunman opened fire at a West Bank bus stop, killing two soldiers near to the Ofra settlement before speeding away in a vehicle.
Earlier in the week, another Palestinian gunman carried out a similar drive-by shooting in the same area, wounding seven people, including a pregnant Israeli woman whose baby later died after being delivered prematurely. It followed an October shooting at a settlement industrial park that killed an Israeli man and a woman, both civilians.
Israel has responded with unusual incursions into the centres of West Bank cities, sealing off major entry points to Ramallah, setting up extra checkpoints, shooting Palestinian suspects and raiding homes – arresting at least 40 people.
Yesterday’s events capped off a bloody week during which eight people were killed, including a Palestinian protester, two Israeli soldiers, an Israeli newborn, a 60-year-old Palestinian businessman, and three Palestinian assailants, two of them members of the Islamic militant Hamas group.
At rallies near Ramallah yesterday, protesters told The Independent they would continue to protest until Israel stopped their raids.
Adam, 22, who was recovering from a barrage of tear gas, said: “This week Israelis have repeatedly come into central Ramallah, in broad daylight, they were metres away from [our president’s] headquarters. They closed the city off like it belonged to them. We can’t accept this.
“We don’t think the way forward is the shootings. That is why we are here to protest. You tell me, how else can we raise our voice?”
The violence has also sparked fierce tensions between Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fateh, after Hamas said that its fighters were behind at least two attacks.
Hamas operates grassroots cells in the West Bank as it is not permitted to properly operate there by Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
President Abbas’s office issued a statement on Thursday denouncing the violence and the attacks but blaming Israel’s “policy of repeated raids into cities”.
A Hamas official, meanwhile, said some 100 members of the group in the West Bank, including lawmakers and other senior figures, had been arrested, including 70 on Friday.
The latest shootings prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to send reinforcements to the Palestinian territory, to order the detentions of Hamas activists and to call for the demolition of the homes of assailants within 48 hours.
The Israeli army defended its actions. “Our guiding principle is that whoever attacks us and whoever tries to attack us will pay with his life,” Mr Netanyahu said Thursday.
Yesterday, thousands of people in Israel attended the funerals of the two slain soldiers, Sergeant Yosef Cohen and Sergeant Yovel Mor Yosef, who were members of the Kfir Brigade’s Netzah Yehuda infantry battalion, a unit for ultra-Orthodox soldiers.
There were fears a third soldier might die after he was hit in the head with a rock on Friday, the military added. The army said it appeared the soldier was also stabbed. It said Israeli forces were searching for the suspect.
Israel has occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem since capturing land during the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians claim the territories for their hoped-for state, with parts of Jerusalem as their capital.
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