IDF boosts deployment during 'days of rage'

Palestinians riot in West Bank, Gaza as tempers flare over Jerusalem

Dozens of protesters said injured in clashes with Israeli troops as they burn tires, throw rocks in low-level clashes

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Protests erupted across the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip on Thursday, as Palestinians raged against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in a speech the previous day.

At various locations around the West Bank and Gaza hundreds of Palestinians held demonstrations against the move, setting fires, chanting and clashing with troops.

Demonstrators also burned posters of US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Israeli and American flags.

Dozens of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were reported injured, mostly from tear gas inhalation and Israeli rubber bullets, but also some from live rounds.

Palestinian protesters burn pictures of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Gaza City, on December 7, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

On Thursday, Hamas terror group leader Ismail Haniyeh called for a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising. The Palestinian Authority canceled classes for its West Bank school system for Thursday, in an apparent attempt to get more young Palestinians to clash with Israeli troops. Shops were shuttered to begin three “days of rage” over Trump’s decision.

In light of a “situational assessment by the IDF General Staff,” that army said it “decided that a number of battalions will reinforce the area of [the West Bank], as well as combat intelligence and territorial defense units.”

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, center, meets with other top officers in the West Bank on December 6, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military would not specify the number of additional battalions being sent in the West Bank as reinforcements.

On Wednesday, the Israel Police also announced that it would be deploying officers throughout the capital, including sites where violence regularly breaks out, like the Old City’s Damascus Gate, where a demonstration was taking place Thursday.

Clashes in Gaza, West Bank, Jerusalem

Palestinians in the southern Gaza Strip, near the cities of Rafah and Khan Younis, rolled burning tires and threw rocks at the security fence and the Israeli troops on the other side of it, the army said.

The Israeli soldiers initially responded with tear gas and rubber bullets to push the demonstrators back. When “main instigators” continued advancing toward the fence, the troops fired warning shots in the air and when they continued, the soldiers shot live rounds at them, injuring several, an IDF spokesperson said.

Palestinian media reported that four rioters sustained gunshot wounds.

Border Police officers spray a foul-smelling liquid toward Palestinian protesters during a violent demonstration in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on December 7, 2017. (Screen capture: Al-Mayadeen News)

In Bethlehem, hundreds of Palestinians squared off against dozens of Border Police officers, separated from each other by a long stretch of empty road.

The protesters threw rocks and set tires ablaze. Israeli troops, in full riot gear, used a water cannon that shoots a foul-smelling liquid — known as “the Skunk” — at the mostly masked demonstrators and also occasionally fired rubber bullets toward the crowd.

The ground near the clash was littered with thrown rocks and other detritus, and the air was filled with smoke from Israeli tear gas and Palestinian tire fires.

One Palestinian in Bethlehem was injured by a rubber bullet, and five others were treated for tear gas inhalation, the Red Crescent said.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli forces near a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Ramallah, December 7, 2017. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)

A large demonstration was also held in the West Bank city of Ramallah, which is the seat of the Palestinian Authority government. Channel 10 news reported that some of those in the crowd called for torching the offices of US representatives in the city and burned photos of Trump.

According to the Red Crescent, four of the rioters there were hit by live rounds and two by rubber bullets. Three suffered from tear gas inhalation.

In the city of Tulkarem, eight Palestinian protesters were hit by rubber bullets and 11 were treated for tear gas inhalation, the Palestinian ambulance service said.

Israel closed the Gilboa Crossing in the northern West Bank after Palestinians threw rocks at it during a violent demonstration, the Defense Ministry said.

“The reopening of the crossing will be dependent upon situational assessments,” the ministry added.

Small clashes were also reported in the cities of Nablus and Qalqilya.

Outside the Damascus Gate of the Old City in Jerusalem over a hundred protesters scuffled with security forces, mostly nonviolently save for some light pushing and shoving. There were no reports of injuries or arrests.

In the Shuafat refugee camp, one person was hit by a rubber bullet during a violent demonstration there, the Red Crescent said.

Between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails a road near the Israeli West Bank city of Ma’ale Adumim, causing no injuries or damage. Border Police in the area arrested 10 suspects, the report said.

Rioters also threw Molotov cocktails and stones at Israeli cars on a road near the West Bank village of Rantis, outside Ramallah. There were no reports of injuries.

Also on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, several thousand Palestinians marched in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, burning US and Israeli flags while chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”

Setting the ground for protests

US President Donald Trump delivers a statement on Jerusalem as US Vice President Mike Pence looks on in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on December 6, 2017. (Madel Ngan/AFP)

In a Wednesday address 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.

Trump also said the United States would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though he set no timetable for that.

Furious Palestinian leaders in the Fatah-controlled West Bank had responded to Trump’s speech with outrage, declaring that the United States could no longer serve as Middle East peace broker.

A closed shop is seen in the West Bank city of Ramallah, after the Palestinian Authority called for a general strike, on December 7, 2017. (Flash90)

The Palestine Liberation Organization announced a general strike in protest across the West Bank, shutting schools and businesses.

Trump’s announcement upturns decades of precedent and runs counter to international consensus, with no other country currently taking the same stance.

Jerusalem’s status is among the most difficult issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the US traditional position has been that it must be negotiated between the two sides.

While Israel has always considered Jerusalem its capital, with the prime minister’s office and parliament building located there, countries have avoided recognizing it as such to prevent damaging hopes for a two-state solution.

The Palestinians see the eastern sector of the city as the capital of their future state.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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