Clashes break out in West Bank and Gaza for second Friday in a row

Palestinians report 2 critically injured in riots at Gaza fence; in West Bank, fewer protesters than last week throw rocks at troops, who respond with tear gas, rubber bullets

Border Police officers take aim at Palestinian rioters during clashes near the West Bank Qalandiya checkpoint, on the outskirts of Ramallah, on December 15, 2017. (Abbas Momani/AFP)
Border Police officers take aim at Palestinian rioters during clashes near the West Bank Qalandiya checkpoint, on the outskirts of Ramallah, on December 15, 2017. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Thousands of Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli security forces across the West Bank on Friday, though apparently in smaller numbers than the week before, in protest over US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6.

At the Gaza border fence, two Palestinians were critically injured by Israeli troops in riots, Israel’s Army Radio said quoting Palestinian sources. It said 3,500 Gazans were demonstrating at nine places along the fence around the Hamas-run enclave, lighting fires and throwing rocks.

A spokesperson for the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said that three rioters were shot by Israeli troops during violent protests along the security fence. The army confirmed that “main instigators” were shot after they failed to heed repeated calls to stop approaching the fence.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Red Crescent reported that dozens of protesters sustained light wounds after being hit by Israeli tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.

A Palestinian man, wearing a suspected suicide vest, is carried into an ambulance after he stabbed a soldier and was then shot in the West Bank town of al-Bireh on December 15, 2017. (Oren Ziv/AFP)

At one protest in Ramallah, a Border Police officer was stabbed in the shoulder and moderately wounded by a Palestinian wearing what appeared to be a suicide bomb belt. Other officers on the scene shot the assailant. The injured border guard was taken to a Jerusalem hospital for treatment.

Following noon-time prayers, riots were reported in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, Qalqilya, Tulkarem and Nablus. Demonstrators burned tires and threw rocks at Israeli troops, who fired back at them with tear gas and rubber bullets.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, some 2,500 Palestinians took part in the West Bank protests, thousands less than in the week before.

“IDF soldiers are responding with riot dispersal means in the main locations,” the army said.

Border Police officers square off against Palestinian rioters during clashes near the West Bank Qalandiya checkpoint, on the outskirts of Ramallah, on December 15, 2017. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Earlier on Friday, a 30-year-old Israeli was lightly injured near the West Bank town of Hizme, outside Jerusalem, when Palestinians threw rocks at his car.

He was treated at the scene by medics and taken to a Jerusalem hospital for treatment, the Magen David Adom emergency service said.

Border Police officers take aim at Palestinian rioters during clashes near the West Bank Qalandiya checkpoint, on the outskirts of Ramallah, on December 15, 2017. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

While widespread, the protests initially appeared to draw smaller crowds and be less violent than the previous week’s.

Hundreds of additional IDF soldiers were deployed across the West Bank and on the Gaza border ahead of the demonstrations against Trump’s proclamation.

Following relative calm in the capital last week, police did not to impose any age restrictions on Muslim worshipers praying on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. At times of expected violence, Israeli authorities sometimes limit access to the site for young men, who are more likely to clash with police.

Border Police officers are seen at the Old City of Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate during a protest against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital on December 7, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In an address last week from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.

The move was hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

US President Donald Trump signing a proclamation that the US government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC, December 6, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via JTA)

Palestinians, angered by what they saw as the US dismissing their claims to East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, called for demonstrations and “days of rage.” Hamas leaders also urged the start of a new intifada, or uprising.

Since then, a total of 67 people have been arrested for riot-related crimes during disturbances that flared up in Jerusalem, police said in a statement Thursday.

Over the past two days, 37 arrests were carried out in East Jerusalem neighborhoods including A-Tur, Shuafat, Wadi Joz, Ras al-Amud, Issawiya and the Old City of Jerusalem. The suspects were all taken in for questioning and later brought to court for hearings.

Another 30 detainees were arrested during riots, police said.

A Palestinian protester throws a rock at Israeli troops during a clash in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 13, 2017. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

There was no official statement on the total number of Palestinian suspects arrested for participating in West Bank riots.

Police said a combination of fieldwork, intelligence gathering, surveillance and the use of technology, along with determined detective work, led to the arrest of key suspects in the violent demonstrations.

During riots at various locations in the capital in recent days, protesters threw stones, glass bottles, Molotov cocktails and other objects at officers as well as blocking roads, burning garbage cans and shooting firecrackers at police. Several officers have been injured.

The West Bank has also seen daily confrontations between protesters and IDF troops. A video released by the army Wednesday showed undercover troops arresting rock throwers during a riot.

On Israel’s southern border with Gaza, protests along the border fence have been accompanied by a marked uptick in rocket attacks, with over a dozen missiles fired since Trump’s speech.

Palestinian protesters take cover from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during clashes on the Israeli border with Gaza, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

On Thursday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called on Israelis to “relax,” despite the dramatic increase in the number of rocket attacks from Gaza over the past week.

Speaking from the southern city of Sderot, Liberman said the rocket fire was the result of internal Palestinian political spats and not an indication that terrorist groups were no longer afraid of Israel.

The reassurance from the ordinarily bellicose defense minister appeared to be a response to growing calls for the Israel Defense Forces to take more aggressive action against terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the rocket attacks.

While most missiles have been intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, two missiles fired over the previous weekend managed to cause damage to cars and buildings in Sderot.

After more than three years with limited rocket fire from Gaza — 26 rockets were fired in 2015, 20 in 2016, and nine from January to November 2017 — the sudden spike in December has raised concerns Israel might be headed for another war with terrorist groups in the Strip.

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