|Protests have been taking place sporadically in the West Bank against Israeli occupation [Reuters file photo]
A young Palestinian man throwing rocks at solders had his skull smashed by a tear gas canister fired by an Israeli soldier, an eyewitness and a medical official say.
Mohammed Abu-Awad, according to his cousin Mahmoud, was one of about two dozen young men who were throwing rocks at soldiers at an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank town of Bir Zeit.
They had just ended an annual commemoration of the deaths of relatives in a vehicle accident with Israeli troops, the Mahmoud said.
He said soldiers fired two tear-gas canisters at them. One hit Abu-Awad in the head.
"His head was all bloodied," Mahmoud said.
Abu Awad, 19 years old, was taken to the Palestine Medical Compound in Ramallah, where he had emergency surgery.
Dr Ahmed Betawi, who works at the compound, told Al Jazeera: "Abu Awad was shot by tear gas. His condition is serious but stable."
Abu-Awad's tear gas injury comes in a string of similar incidents over the years, raising concerns about the way Israeli forces use the exploding canisters.
Israel's military says it uses the weapons to disperse rioters. A spokesman could not confirm what was used in this incident and said they were looking into the matter.
A senior Israeli military official who spoke last week to the Associated Press news agency said the army advises soldiers to not shoot directly at demonstrators.
But he said Palestinians in clashes needed to understand they face the risk of injury.
Rights activists, Palestinians, their supporters and reporters who cover demonstrations say Israeli forces often fire the exploding canisters of acrid smoke directly at demonstrators as weapons - instead of to disperse protesters.
"Anybody who has seen protests or clashes in the West Bank between the army, border police and Palestinian stone throwers knows this is a common, daily occurrence," Sarit Michaeli of Israeli rights group B'Tselem said.
The area has experienced an increase in violent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces in recent weeks, spurred by persistent rumors that Jewish extremists are plotting to take over the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City. Israel's government charges the rumours are flagrant attempts to stir up trouble.
In the clashes, Palestinian youths have hurled rocks, firecrackers and firebombs at Israeli soldiers and paramilitary police, who have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and on some occasions, live fire.
In one clash on February 24, soldiers shot and killed a 23-year-old Palestinian, Talat Ramia.