Israel’s security forces in Jerusalem and the West Bank have been placed on continued high alert following a day of violent demonstrations by Palestinian activists on Friday.
“The continuing riots clearly show the terrorists’ motivation to carry out attacks,” a source at the Central Command told Channel 10 News. He added that the security establishment had received many warnings of planned terrorist attacks, although the majority of the threats were of “spontaneous” attacks, such as stabbings. Soldiers have been instructed to maintain extra vigilance at checkpoints after two Palestinians were arrested Friday carrying knives.
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 fuel the public’s anger and lead to acts of retribution.”
Four Palestinian security prisoners who are hunger-striking in Ofer Prison were said to have been transferred to hospital on Friday.
Some Israeli experts believe the Palestinian Authority is using the issue of the hunger strikers to try to foster a First Intifada-style popular uprising. A Hamas spokesman in Gaza on Friday said he hoped the upsurge in riots represented the start of a third intifada that would “liberate” the Palestinians from Israeli occupation.
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom called the incidents of the last few days “a test for (Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas.”
“If he is giving the green light to all these riots, what will happen if and when we sign a peace agreement? He has to prove that he can maintain control,” Shalom said.
Channel 2 News defense analyst Roni Daniel said that US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to the region would be a key factor in determining the future course of the protests. “If the visit fails to produce gains for the Palestinians, we can expect to see things escalate,” he cautioned.
Palestinian protests Friday turned violent in Jerusalem and the West Bank, with demonstrators throwing stones and Molotov cocktails 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, in far heavier clashes, 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.
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.
Palestinian sources claimed dozens of people were lightly injured by tear-gas inhalation at the various demonstrations.
Demonstrations were planned in solidarity with Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli jails. But protests also marked the anniversary of Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of 29 Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994.
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.
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.
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.