HEBRON (AFP) – Violence broke out Saturday in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron as Palestinians buried five teenagers killed in a wave of attacks and clashes with Israeli forces.
The funerals came as Israeli border guards shot dead a Palestinian at a checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel after he allegedly tried to stab one of them, police said.
The surge of unrest since early October has triggered fears of a third Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation by a generation gripped by despair and anger over stalled peace efforts.
Nine Israelis, 66 Palestinians and an Arab Israeli have been killed since the violence erupted in Jerusalem a month ago.
The violence has spread to the West Bank, with daily protests and attacks on Israeli soldiers, and to the Gaza Strip, where there have been clashes with Israeli forces along the enclave s borders.
Thousands of Palestinian mourners attended the funerals of the teenagers, two of whom were girls, in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, a powder-keg in the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
They waved Palestinian flags and chanted “we will die but Palestine will live on”.
Clashes broke out between stone throwers and Israeli soldiers as the funerals began, and Palestinian medical sources said Israeli fire wounded 12 Palestinians.
One Palestinian was buried separately in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Israel has been withholding the bodies of suspected assailants as part of measures to dissuade attacks on Jews. On Friday, it said it had released seven bodies, apparently to ease tensions.
Families of young people killed in the violence have clamoured for their bodies to be released and accuse authorities of “collective punishment”.
Ziad Natsheh, who buried his son Tareq, 17, said as he received condolences Saturday that he was relieved to give him a “dignified burial”.
Hotbed for unrest
“Living in a country where there is nothing else but war, everyone expects to know death, injury or lose a child,” said Natsheh.
Many attackers who have targeted Israeli forces come from Hebron, a stronghold of the Islamist movement Hamas.
Hebron, home to a shrine known to Jews as Cave of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, has 200,000 Palestinian residents.
But the presence of 500 Israeli settlers near the city centre, living behind barbed wire and watchtowers, with an army-patrolled buffer zone, has kept tensions high.
On Friday, dozens of protesters outside the shrine condemned restrictions on access imposed by Israel, which has divided it into a mosque and a synagogue.
Media reported that more army checkpoints were being set up in Hebron at access points to Jewish areas, with Palestinians aged 15 to 25 not allowed to pass.
Amnesty International has urged Israeli authorities to protect Palestinians in Hebron “from attacks by Israeli settlers”, which the rights group says have “escalated” in less than a month.
Clinton at Rabin rally
Hundreds of Palestinians also attended the funeral of another victim of the West Bank violence, eight-month-old Ramadan Thawabteh.
Palestinian officials said he was asphyxiated by tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers near his Bethlehem home Friday.
Israel denied any link, with the army saying “tear gas was used dozens of metres (yards) away from the Thawabteh residence, and no riot dispersal means were directed at” it.
Simmering tensions boiled over in September regarding the status of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, holy to both Muslims and Jews, before escalating from October 1.
Palestinians accuse Israel of seeking to change the rules governing the compound, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted he will not alter a status quo that forbids Jews from praying there.
On Friday, the Palestinians also urged the International Criminal Court to accelerate its probe into accusations of “Israeli war crimes”, handing over a 52-page dossier alleging summary killings and collective punishment.
Later Saturday, former US president Bill Clinton addressed a rally attended by tens of thousands in Tel Aviv in memory of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli premier assassinated 20 years ago by a right-wing Jewish extremist.
He urged Israelis to decide that “Yitzhak Rabin was right, that you have to share your future with your neighbours, that you have to stand for peace, that the risks of peace are not so severe as the risks of not making peace”.