JERUSALEM (Jun. 3)
Thousands of Palestinians have clashed with Israeli troops during demonstrations throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The demonstrations reportedly took place in at least nine locations on Thursday, with Palestinians marching on settlements and Israeli army posts.
In one incident near the West Bank town of Hebron, a Palestinian was killed by Israeli troops when he tried to drive through a roadblock. The troops said the driver, who died of his injuries after being taken to a local hospital, had tried to run them over.
At least three Israeli soldiers and 10 Palestinians were wounded during the widespread clashes.
The Palestinian Authority, which declared Thursday a “Day of Anger” and urged widespread protests against Jewish settlement activity, warned that the protests would continue if Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak does not reverse the settlement policies of his predecessor.
Palestinian officials, determined to put the settlement issue at the top of the incoming premier’s agenda, have warned that continued Jewish construction in the territories and in disputed parts of Jerusalem could lead to an “explosion.”
Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is concerned that Barak will harden his position on settlements as part of an effort to lure hard-line parties into his governing coalition.
Earlier this week, Barak issued guidelines for his ongoing coalition negotiations indicating his opposition to the construction of new settlements, but allowing for the natural growth of existing ones — a position not unlike that of his predecessor.
Thursday’s demonstrations were a “message from our people to Mr. Barak that peace with settlements is not possible,” a spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Information said Thursday.
In scenes reminiscent of the intifada, Israeli soldiers used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowds during the widespread demonstrations.
At a hilltop near the West Bank town of Nablus, where demonstrators protested the expansion of two Jewish settlements, an Israeli soldier shot a man in the face with a rubber bullet. The man, later identified as a plainclothes Palestinian policeman, was listed in serious condition at a Nablus hospital.
In Hebron, Israeli security forces prevented hundreds of Palestinians from marching toward the Cave of the Patriarchs.
Near the West Bank village of Youssouf, several Palestinians were wounded by rubber bullets fired by Israeli troops. One Israeli border police guard was also hurt.
In Gaza, three Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded as hundreds of Palestinians gathered near the Netzarim settlement and threw firebombs and rocks.
In predominantly Arab eastern Jerusalem, where merchants observed a strike, marchers carried banners reading, “Barak, Listen, the Palestinian People Will Not Kneel.”
Israeli security officials expressed overall satisfaction with efforts by Palestinian police to maintain order in those areas under their control.
Near Bethlehem, Palestinian police dispersed demonstrators trying to throw rocks at Israeli troops stationed at Rachel’s Tomb, and the police also prevented some 2,000 demonstrators from marching on a West Bank settlement near the village of Dir Kadis.
Israeli troops had been put on heightened alert in the territories prior to the demonstrations, which were expected to continue into the weekend.
Security was also beefed up in eastern Jerusalem, where police said they would not permit a planned procession from the Temple Mount to the Ras al-Amud neighborhood following Friday prayers.
Ras al-Amud became a focal point for Palestinian protests after construction work for Jewish housing recently began there.
In a bid for votes, outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the go- ahead for construction at Ras al-Amud in the days preceding Israel’s May 17 elections.