Washington on Monday denied claims by Palestinian officials that they had called off a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators due to a clash in the West Bank that saw three Palestinians killed by Israeli fire, Reuters reported.
“I can assure you that no meetings have been cancelled,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf was quoted as saying. “The parties are engaged in serious and sustained negotiations.”
An official from the office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said earlier Monday that the Palestinians decided to postpone a meeting later in the day between the PA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to protest the killings. He said the Palestinians were also upset about an Israeli announcement on Sunday pushing forward with new construction in East Jerusalem.
Another official told the AFP news agency that “the meeting that was to take place in Jericho… today was cancelled because of the Israeli crime committed in Qalandiya today.”
A meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams had in fact taken place Monday morning, with Israel intent on keeping news of it under wraps for fear of embarrassing the Palestinians, Channel 2 reported.
Clashes between Palestinians and IDF soldiers resumed Monday afternoon in the West Bank refugee camp of Qalandiya, north of Jerusalem, following the funeral of three Palestinians who were killed in a confrontation with Israeli Border Police there earlier in the day.
Rioters pelted the troops with rocks and Molotov cocktails, and Israeli forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters in an attempt to contain the protest and keep the demonstrators at bay. The clashes abated later in the day.
Border Police spokesman Shai Hakimi said officers were on an early-morning raid to apprehend a “terror suspect” when over 1,500 Palestinians poured into the streets and attacked the officers with firebombs and rocks.
Hakimi said officers used riot control munitions — a term that usually refers to rubber bullets and tear gas. He said he wasn’t aware of any use of live fire, or of any Palestinians killed.
The IDF said soldiers rushed to the scene after the Border Police officers came under attack. It said soldiers opened fire after they felt their lives were in “imminent danger.”
“Large violent crowds such as this, which significantly outnumber security forces, leave no other choice but to resort to live fire in self-defense,” said military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner.
The soldiers came under live fire from masked gunmen during the raid, defense officials were quoted by Channel 2 news as saying.
Hatim Khatib, whose brother Youssef was arrested in the raid, told the Associated Press that undercover troops dressed in civilian clothes arrived at their home at 4:30 a.m. looking for the brother.
“After half-an-hour, we started hearing shooting from the soldiers inside our house, and then people started throwing stones at them,” he said.
Youssef was arrested after he returned from morning prayers at 7 a.m., continued Hatim. He said he didn’t know why his brother was arrested, but said he had spent time in an Israeli jail for throwing rocks and was released three years ago. The Israeli military would not elaborate as to why he was wanted.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Abbas, issued a statement condemning Israel for what he termed its assassination of the three men in Qalandiya. He added that the “crimes” committed by the Israelis and their continued settlement construction were a clear sign of Israel’s true intentions.
Rdeneh called on the American government to intervene and prevent a collapse in the efforts to restart the peace process.
PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah also condemned the incident. “Such a crime proves the need for an urgent and effective international protection for our people,” he said in a statement.
According to Palestinian news outlets, the Israeli forces entered Qalandiya around 5 a.m. Monday morning. Medical sources in Ramallah, cited by WAFA news, reported that Rubin Zayed, 34, and Younis Jahjouh, 22, died in the subsequent clashes with soldiers.
A third man, Jihad Aslan, 27, died of injuries sustained in the clashes after being pronounced brain-dead at a Ramallah hospital, according to Ma’an News. One of the dead worked for the UN’s Palestinian refugee relief agency, UNRWA, Britain’s the Guardian reported.
Over a dozen more were injured, one seriously, by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation. There were no reports of soldiers injured in the skirmish.
A video uploaded to YouTube appeared to show Palestinians on rooftops in Qalandiya, raining down rubble on Border Police vehicles.
The IDF said the incident was under investigation.