Palestinian Authority police cracked down on a Hamas protest in the southern West Bank city of Hebron on Friday, beating demonstrators with batons and throwing stun grenades.
Some 50 Hamas activists confronted Palestinian forces after Muslim prayers on Friday, as the terror group marked the 31st anniversary of its establishment.
An Associated Press cameraman said Palestinian police brutally beat Hamas activists to disperse the protest, injuring five and arresting 15.
Meanwhile, street clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters erupted outside Ramallah, with protesters slinging rocks and soldiers responding with tear gas.
Tensions have escalated in the West Bank as Israel presses on with a manhunt for the Palestinian gunman that killed two Israeli soldiers on Thursday, the second fatal attack this week. Israel has boosted its forces and arrested dozens of Hamas members in an overnight raid.
On social media sites, people posted videos showing Palestinian security forces using batons against both male and female demonstrators in Hebron.
In Nablus in the northern West Bank, protesters from other Palestinian factions clashed with Hamas demonstrators after they raised the group’s flag during a demonstration, witnesses said.
Adnan al-Damiri, spokesman for the Palestinian police, confirmed they prevented a pro-Hamas protest in Hebron, called initially to demonstrate against Israel.
“But Hamas… demonstrated against the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its security services in the city center and not against the (Israeli) occupation.”
A senior PA official told The Times of Israel the Hamas demonstrators were blocking the central Ain Sara Street, and did not have the necessary permits.
On Friday, Hamas condemned the PA for suppressing the demonstrations. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement on the Hamas website that the “barbaric behavior” was proof the PA “denigrated the blood of the martyrs.”
The Palestinian Authority, led by president Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, cooperates closely with Israeli security, while Hamas has fought three wars with the Jewish state since 2008.
Hamas cells continue operate in the West Bank despite PA and Israeli efforts to arrest them. The protests come amid a surge of terror attacks in the West Bank, some of them claimed by Hamas.
Two Israeli soldiers were killed Thursday and two other Israelis injured when a man opened fire at a bus stop at a settlement in the West Bank, before fleeing.
Hamas has claimed two other recent shooting attacks in the West Bank but has so far not taken responsibility for Thursday’s attack, near the settlement of Givat Assaf.
The Israeli military says it believes a Hamas cell conducted Sunday’s attack in Ofra, and that the terror group may have also committed the shooting in nearby Givat Assaf.
Meanwhile in overnight raids, Israeli officials said the IDF arrested 40 Hamas members in the West Bank as the army intensified a crackdown in response to the pair of deadly shootings.
Amid the tense manhunt, Israeli forces encircled Ramallah, the Palestinians’ center of government and commerce. To prevent what it called “copycat attacks,” the army set up checkpoints, searched cars and blocked roads in an unusual show of force that reflected the severity with which Israel views the shootings.
“Our guiding principle is that whoever attacks us and whoever tries to attack us will pay with his life,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday.
The Hamas terrorist movement has controlled the Gaza Strip since forcing out Abbas’s forces in 2007, with the two at loggerheads since.
The West Bank has seen an increase in the number of attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in recent weeks, after months of relative calm in the area, raising concerns of a potential renewed outbreak of regular, serious violence in the region.
The military blamed the increase in attacks both on the Hamas terror groups’ ongoing efforts, the copycat phenomenon and a number of significant dates coming up this week, notably the anniversary of the Hamas’ founding.
An Egyptian security delegation visited the West Bank’s main city of Ramallah to meet with Abbas late Thursday to try to calm tensions.
Adam Rasgon and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report