Palestinian protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank turned violent on Friday, with demonstrators throwing stones at Israeli security forces at several locations.
At the Temple Mount in the capital’s Old City, Palestinians exiting Friday prayers hurled stones at security forces stationed near the Mughrabi Gate. Israeli forces stormed the area, entering the Temple Mount compound, and used stun grenades to disperse the protesters.
“Our forces at the Mughrabi Gate [leading up to the Temple Mount compound] were hit by hails of stones,” said Jerusalem District police chief Yossi Pariente. He said one policeman was lightly injured.
In Hebron, dozens of Palestinians attacked security forces with stones in the city’s Jewish quarter. A Border Police officer was lightly injured when hit by a brick hurled by protesters. He received initial medical treatment on the scene before being transferred to a hospital.
Hundreds of protesters also gathered at the Beitunia military checkpoint near the Ofer Prison outside Ramallah, where several Palestinian inmates are on a hunger strike. Dozens of them threw stones at IDF and Border Police stationed at the post.
In Nabi Saleh, also near Ramallah, security forces used live fire to disperse protesters.
Palestinian sources claimed dozens of people were lightly injured by tear-gas inhalation at the various demonstrations.
Israeli security forces had been placed on high alert ahead of the anticipated protests, following escalating demonstrations in recent days.
Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi told Channel 10 News that, for now, things are under control, but that “if something happens to any of the Palestinian prisoners, especially the hunger strikers, it will raise the ire of the public and lead to acts of retribution.”
Some Israeli experts believe the Palestinian Authority is using the issue of the hunger strikers to try to foster a First Intifada-style Palestinian uprising.
Palestinian organizations in Gaza were carefully watching events unfold. Islamic Jihad official Habed Habib said “What’s taking place in the West Bank now is the first sign of a third Palestinian uprising. The Israeli occupation must be uprooted.”
Demonstrations were planned in solidarity with Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli jails. But protesters also said they intended to mark the anniversary of Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of 29 Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994.
US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel was also cited as a reason to draw protests, according to Israel Radio.
Police were deployed in unusually high numbers in the Old City as Friday prayers were held, and at the entrances to villages around Jerusalem.
Several Palestinians and three Israeli journalists were injured Thursday as thousands of Palestinians demonstrated at the Beitunia military checkpoint, calling for the release of the inmates who are on hunger strike.
Dozens of the protesters threw stones at security forces and burned tires. The police dispersed the crowd using tear gas and rubber-coated bullets, injuring five. Palestinian reports later claimed dozens were injured.
Channel 1 journalist Yoram Cohen was hit in the head by a stone and was taken to hospital for medical attention. Channel 10 reporter Roy Sharon and photographer were also injured and received treatment on the spot.
The demonstrators were demanding the release of hunger-striking prisoners Samer Issawi, Ayman Sharawneh, Tareq Qaadan, and Jafar Azzidine. Issawi has been on hunger strike for over 200 days.
Other protests were held across the West Bank. In Jalameh, near the city of Jenin, three Palestinians were arrested. Three hundred protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at soldiers who responded by firing tear gas.
Issawi and Sharawneh were previously jailed for long prison sentences for terrorist activities, but were released in 2011 as part of the prisoner exchange deal that secured the freedom of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Both men were since re-arrested for violating the terms of their release. Issawi — whose original convictions included attempted murder, for actions including opening fire on an Israel bus with an AK47 — was sentenced to eight months for the violation on Thursday. Tariq Qaadan and Jafar Ezzedine, both from Arabe near Jenin, are senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives.
On Tuesday Fatah officials warned of an increase in violence in the West Bank if the prisoners were not immediately released. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged a solution to prisoners crisis and raised particular concern over their being held in administrative detention without a trial.
On Wednesday Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a petition for the release of Sharawneh.