JERUSALEM (Sep. 29)
Radical Palestinian youths used the funeral procession of former Gaza Mayor Rashad a-Shawwa Thursday as cover for a provocative nationalist demonstration.
They carried a huge Palestinian flag, chanted Palestinian songs and slogans and pelted soldiers and journalists with stones. One reporter was slightly injured.
Curfews were imposed on the Gaza suburbs and refugee camps to reduce the number of demonstrators at the funeral. Omar el-Mukhtar Street, the main street of Gaza, was closed off hours before the procession began.
Shawwa, whom the Israeli authorities twice appointed mayor of Gaza and twice deposed, died Tuesday of a heart attack at the age of 79.
Israeli security forces were under orders to exercise maximum restraint. They fired tear gas at one point to scatter stone-throwers, but they did not intervene otherwise.
The soldiers were careful to avoid turning the cortege of a Palestinian moderate into a bloody street confrontation.
Shawwa, although fiercely opposed to Israeli rule in the administered territories, was one of the few Palestinian leaders openly critical of the Palestine Liberation Organization and terrorist tactics.
This earned him the enmity of PLO supporters. They had no qualms, however, about turning his funeral — a dignified family event attended by dozens of Palestinian notables from the West Bank and members of the foreign diplomatic corps — into an anti-Israel rally.
Youths, chanting “Israel No — PLO,” took over the procession as it approached the mosque where prayer services for the dead were held.
Three masked youths climbed to the roof of the mosque where they unfurled the black, white and red Palestinian colors, to the cheers of the crowd below.
This was a clear breach of regulations, but the demonstrators were confident that given the nature of the occasion, Israeli troops would not interfere.
As the funeral continued on to the family plot, youths stoned the local police station. At the cemetery, they hurled barrages of stones at a group of reporters on the roof of a nearby building.
The crowd dispersed without incident after the burial services.