Palestinian factions in West Bank declare ‘day of rage’

Calls for continuing protests after three killed

A relative of Palestinian man Mohammed al-Araj, whom medics said was killed by Israeli troops, mourns during his funeral at Qalandia refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Mohamad Torokman

A relative of Palestinian man Mohammed al-Araj, whom medics said was killed by Israeli troops, mourns during his funeral at Qalandia refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Mohamad Torokman

Sat, Jul 26, 2014, 01:00

Palestinian factions in the West Bank declared a “day of rage” yesterday after three demonstrators were killed in some of the worst clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the occupied territories in almost a decade.

Three Palestinians were killed in the West Bank in shootings involving both Israeli forces and a civilian who appeared to be a Jewish settler, according to witnesses. The clashes followed the killing of a Palestinian teenager on the outskirts of Jerusalem during a thousands- strong protest which was one of the largest since the end of the second intifada, or uprising, in 2005.

The boy, Muhammad al-Araj (17), died in clashes at the Qalandiya checkpoint, which links Ramallah and Jerusalem. At the local mosque yesterday the imam railed against Israel, telling thousands of mourners who spilled into the surrounding streets: “Kill me, cut me into pieces, drown me in blood, you will never live in my land, you will never live in my sky!”

The violence was the first clear sign that, after two weeks of war in the Gaza strip, the ripple effects had reached the West Bank and threatened a wider escalation. The killings prompted Fatah and the other Palestinian factions to declare a “day of rage in support of bleeding, besieged Gaza” and call for continuing popular protests throughout the West Bank.

Hamas spokesmen in the Gaza Strip and outside it urged Palestinians to turn out en masse and launch a new intifada against Israel, calling it an opportunity “to set the territory on fire and come out against the occupation, in support of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip”.

In the Al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah, the starting point for Thursday night’s march, shopkeeper Hassan Abdullah said only an uprising could bring an end to the Israeli occupation. “If an intifada happens, it will be worse than Gaza,” he said.

Frustration with the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas was at boiling point, Abdullah said, and there was frustration at the lack of economic opportunities and the restrictions imposed by the occupation.

“Some days I come here and I find [soldiers] right outside my shop,” he said. “I used to work in Nablus. I got this scar on the back of my head from settlers – they threw a stone at me while I was driving. They spat at me. I’ve had to change my car windows lots of times.”

In the camp, which was under lockdown during the second intifada between 2000 and 2005, the walls are lined with stencil drawings of local men who are in Israeli jails, and posters commemorate those who have died in clashes with the authorities.

Unpacking Israeli milk and other products from a lorry on one of the camp’s narrow streets, Abu Ahmed conceded that a new round of violence would mean much of his work would dry up, but he professed not to care about that.

“If an intifada happens, I won’t want to work,” he said. “I’ll be happy. I don’t want my life if it continues like this.”

Further along the street, Imahmoud Haj Abdallah, who was out with her daughter Tumana, was fully supportive of the protests. “Maybe it will bring about a solution,” she said. “The negotiations never did. But I hope there will be peace rather than an intifada.”

Mr Abbas, who was in Jordan yesterday, did not make any public comment on the protests in the West Bank but urged Palestinians to turn out en masse to donate blood to help the wounded in both Gaza and the West Bank. He also said he was “following developments in every arena”.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority has come in for heavy criticism in recent weeks. Having appeared sidelined by the crisis in Gaza, Mr Abbas in recent days has fully endorsed the demands made by Hamas as conditions for a ceasefire – a shift seen as a direct response by him to anger on the streets. Thursday’s march was led by senior officials from Abbas’s Fatah party, including members of its central committee.

Spurred by reports of the dead and wounded during the initial march, other demonstrations began later that night from the vicinity of Hebron, Tul Karm and Bethlehem. Clashes with Israeli troops took places during these marches as well.

Protests also took place in Jerusalem, where police confronted Palestinian protesters in and near the old walled city after Friday prayers. Helicopters flew overhead for much of the day and the main road between Jerusalem and Ramallah was closed by the army. In an attempt to head off trouble, Israeli authorities barred men under 50 from entering the Al Aksa Mosque compound.

Jerusalem police said several officers were injured by rocks thrown at them in the city and that about 20 protesters had been arrested.