Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas lashed out at Israel Monday, accusing it of killing Palestinian children hours after a funeral of a Palestinian who died in disputed circumstances while in Israeli custody.
Low-level violence broke out at a number of spots around the West Bank Monday as thousands gathered in Hebron for the funeral of Arafat Jaradat, who the Palestinians say was tortured to death by Israel. Israel says the inmate died of a heart attack.
The US government issued a travel warning, telling citizens to avoid non-essential travel to the West Bank.
The funeral was attended by at least 10,000 people, and marked a show of force by Abbas’s Fatah group; masked Fatah gunmen fired volleys of gunfire into the air from rooftops as the funeral proceeded. The Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade published a leaflet urging a harsh response against Israel for Jaradat’s death.
Violence surrounding the funeral was markedly milder than the Israeli security forces had feared, with clashes at several locales but no reports of serious injury.
“Israel is killing our children with live fire,” Abbas said at an address in Ramallah, adding that he would not let Israel “play with the lives of our people” and would not allow Palestinians to waste away in Israeli jails.
His words came as Israel called on the Palestinians to calm the West Bank in the face of what Jerusalem fears could be a widespread outbreak of violence or third intifada. Israel’s Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich described the violence of the last few days as “local” in nature, and said “we’re a long way away” from a new intifada. But MK Yisrael Hasson (Kadima), a former deputy head of the Shin Bet, warned that the situation could well spiral toward a new uprising, amid Palestinian frustration ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit next month.
Abbas accused Israel of creating the tension, but said the Palestinians would not allow it to get out of hand.
“We won’t let Israel create chaos in the West Bank,” he said. “We won’t let that happen.”
Abbas also said that the Palestinians sought a just peace, involving the dismantling of settlements.
Earlier in the day, more than 10,000 mourners escorted Jaradat’s body from a Hebron hospital to a cemetery in his home village of Si’ir. Among those participating was Khader Adnan, a former Palestinian prisoner who was freed after going on a high-profile hunger strike in 2012.
The body was transported on a troop carrier with Palestinian security forces to Si’ir for a military burial.
A video feed of the funeral showed large masses of people waving flags and shouting.
Riots were reported in the village of Beit Anoun, between Si’ir and Hebron, just before noon, where some 200 Palestinians gathered.
There were also protests in Beitunia, outside Ramallah and near the Ofer military prison, where several Palestinian prisoners have been on hunger strike, and where hundreds threw rocks at Israeli security forces.
Forces also clashed with Palestinians at other spots around the West Bank, including Tulkarem and near Tekoa.
Officials had been on high alert, expecting another day of wide-ranging unrest centered around the funeral. Some Palestinians had called for Monday to be a “day of rage” on the Palestinian street.
The army had said it would expend every effort not to worsen the situation and let Palestinian security forces take control where possible.
The IDF blocked access to Route 60 between the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and Hebron for the funeral. The road is the main north-south artery in the southern West Bank.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Fatah-linked terror group, vowed to avenge Jaradat’s death.
Palestinians have clashed with Israeli security forces at hot spots around the West Bank for several days in solidarity with Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
Monday was also the 19th anniversary of the so-called Goldstein massacre, in which 29 Muslim worshipers were killed and 125 were injured by Israeli gunman Baruch Goldstein during a mosque prayer service at the Cave of the Patriarchs. Activists had planned a series of events distinct from the funeral to commemorate the shooting.
Under interim Israeli-Palestinian agreements implemented in 1997, Israel pulled out of 80% of Hebron, where some 120,000 Palestinians live, retaining control of the remaining 20%, where some 30,000 Palestinians live and where several Jewish settler enclaves are home to a population of some 700.
The US Consulate General in Jerusalem announced that it has limited official travel to the West Bank by US government personnel and suspended personal travel to Bethlehem due to the demonstrations over Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
The consulate statement issued Monday also advised US citizens to “defer non-essential travel to and within the West Bank and to exercise an extra measure of caution during this period.”
On Sunday, the Palestinian Authority said it had determined Jaradat was tortured to death in Megiddo Prison after his arrest last week, while Israel said that the prisoner died of a heart attack and that signs of trauma on his body were from resuscitation attempts.
The Palestinian announcement was expected to further escalate the tense situation in the territories, which some have already described as marking the beginning of a third intifada.
Several thousand Palestinian prisoners held by Israel observed a one-day fast Sunday to protest Jaradat’s death. On Monday morning, in Megiddo Prison, more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners again refused food.
Still, a number of high-level attempts were being made on both sides to keep the situation from spiraling into another round of violence.
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot held several phone conversations with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Sunday urging him to do everything possible to lower the flames.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he would release Palestinian tax rebates to the PA on Sunday in a bid to quell the unrest. On Monday, Netanyahu was said to be receiving hourly reports on the security situation in the West Bank. He also discussed the situation at a meeting Monday with Middle East Quartet representative Tony Blair.
Former Palestinian security chief Jibril Rajoub, speaking in Hebrew on Israel Radio, tried to reassure Israelis, declaring Sunday “on behalf of the entire Palestinian leadership that there is no plan to lead to bloodshed.”
Former Shin Bet chief and current Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri said that he believes the Palestinian leadership isn’t interested in “fanning the flames” of conflict in the territories, unlike in previous years, and that he believes the PA leaders are looking to solve the conflict. “Settling the conflict with the Palestinians is Israel’s existential need,” he told Israel Radio.
The Shin Bet said Jaradat was arrested last Monday, after residents in his West Bank village of Si’ir said he was involved in a rock-throwing attack that injured an Israeli. Jaradat confessed to the charge, as well as to another West Bank rock-throwing incident last year, the Shin Bet said.
The agency said that during interrogation, he was examined several times by a doctor who detected no health problems. On Saturday, he was in his cell and felt unwell after lunch, the agency said. “Rescue services and a doctor were alerted and treated him, but they didn’t succeed in saving his life,” the statement said.
Jaradat, father of a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, worked as a gas station attendant. His wife, Dalal, is pregnant, relatives said.