Thousands of Palestinians have taken to the streets in the occupied West Bank in a show of anger over the deaths of two Palestinian protesters killed in clashes with Israel and a third who died of cancer in an Israeli prison.
In the city of Hebron, thousands of people turned out on Thursday for the funeral of Maysara Abu Hamdeya, a 64-year-old prisoner who died earlier this week from throat cancer while in Israeli custody.
The Palestinians have blamed Israel for Abu Hamdeya’s death, saying he did not receive proper medical care. He had been serving a life sentence for his involvement in an attempted bombing of a busy Jerusalem cafe in 2002.
His body, wrapped in a Palestinian flag, was paraded on a stretcher in a military funeral to a Hebron mosque, where prayers were held. Thousands of people waited outside the mosque to take the body for burial.
Since news of Abu Hamdeya’s death emerged, Hebron has been wracked by clashes between stone-throwing youths and Israeli troops, and since Tuesday the city has been shut down for a three-day general strike in a show of mourning.
The Israeli army reported clashes with Palestinian protesters elsewhere in Hebron, Bethlehem and on a main road in the northern West Bank. The military said it fired tear gas to disperse the crowds, and no major injuries were reported.
Calls for revenge
In Tulkarem, also in the northern West Bank, hundreds of people participated in the funeral of two Palestinians who were killed by Israeli troops late on Wednesday during clashes near a military checkpoint.
Palestinian security officials said Amer Nasser, 17, was killed by a bullet to the head and Naji Balbisi, 19, whose body was discovered at dawn, was shot in the chest.
The Israeli military said troops had opened fire at “rioters who hurled petrol bombs” at a military post.
In Anabta village, where the fatal clashes occurred, schools and shops were closed in mourning and about 6,000 people gathered for the funerals, many calling for revenge as the two bodies arrived, both wrapped in Palestinian flags, an AFP correspondent said.
On Wednesday, 4,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails staged a one-day hunger strike, with another 1,900 refusing breakfast again on Thursday, the prisons service said.
Speaking to top officials of the Fatah party, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, blamed Israel for the violence, saying it is trying to divert attention away from a four-year standstill in peace efforts.
“It seems that Israel wants to spark chaos in the Palestinian territories,” he said.
“From the beginning, we have said we want stability and calm. Despite that, Israel on every occasion is using lethal force against peaceful young protesters, and peaceful demonstrations are being suppressed with the power of weapons. This is not acceptable at all.”
Talks between the two sides have been frozen for more than four years.
Abbas has refused to negotiate while Israel continues to build illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim for a future state.
Israel has refused to halt settlement construction and says negotiations should begin without any preconditions.
The developments come before a visit to the region by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who hopes to find a formula for restarting peace negotiations in the coming months.
Early on Thursday, fighters in Gaza fired several rockets towards Israel, defying warnings that Israel will not tolerate the attacks. Only one of the rockets exploded in Israel, causing no injuries, the army said.
It was the third consecutive day of rocket fire on Israel.
“If the quiet is violated, we will respond strongly,” Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, said.
“The security of Israel’s citizens is my chief concern and we will know how to defend the security of our people.”