HEBRON/GENEVA/JERUSALEM: Hundreds of Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers on Friday in the West Bank city of Hebron on the anniversary of a 1994 massacre carried out by a far-right Jewish settler.
In another development, the UN said it’s “deeply disturbed” by the “lenient” 18-month prison sentence handed down by a Tel Aviv military court against an Israeli soldier who killed a badly wounded Palestinian assailant as he lay on the ground.
Soldiers fired tear gas and sound grenades to disperse the crowd as cannons doused them with stinking water, an AFP correspondent said. There was no report of injuries.
Jewish settlers hurled stones at the protesters who also pelted soldiers with stones.
Settler Baruch Goldstein on Feb. 25, 1994 mowed down 29 Palestinians inside Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs, holy to Muslims and Jews alike, before being lynched.
Also on Friday, dozens of Palestinians staged a protest in Hebron against US President Donald Trump who has voiced strong support of Israel, pelting a huge portrait of America’s leader with shoes, an ultimate insult in the Arab world.
“This is a Palestinian product. He will get it in his face, him and everybody supporting him,” said activist Issa Amro.
“Today we are here to send the message to the Trump administration that we exist, we deserve full rights as everybody in the world. We disrespect this president who does not see us as equal human beings with everyone.”
Palestinians in Hebron have stepped up calls for the Israeli army to re-open a street near the Jewish settler enclave in the heart of the city that has been largely closed off to Palestinians for the past 23 years since the massacre.
Hebron has been at the center of a wave of deadly unrest since October 2015 that has killed 252 Palestinians, 36 Israelis, two US nationals, a Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese, according to an AFP count.
‘Culture of impunity’
Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani of the UN human rights office said on Friday there was a “chronic culture of impunity” in Israel when it comes to soldiers involved in the conflict with Palestinians.
Sgt. Elor Azaria was sentenced Tuesday for manslaughter in the March shooting of Adbelfattah Al-Sharif, who was wounded after he stabbed a soldier in the volatile West Bank city of Hebron.
Israel has meanwhile denied a work permit to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher, accusing the group of serving as Palestinian propagandists in a move the US-based organization called an “ominous turn.”
The US State Department said it strongly disagreed with Israel’s characterization of HRW, which it considers a credible human rights organization.
“Even though we do not agree with all of their assertions or conclusions, given the seriousness of their efforts, we support the importance of the work they do. We reference HRW reports in our own reporting,” acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
New Hamas leader
The new leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, made his first public appearance since his election for the inauguration of a mosque on Friday, winning praise from his predecessor.
His movement which has run the Gaza Strip for the past decade invited the media to attend the opening of the Gaza City mosque without announcing Sinwar’s participation.
Sinwar himself made no statement at the event, but his predecessor Ismail Haniya paid tribute to the former prisoner who spent 25 years “in the jails of the (Israeli) occupation.”
“This is a source of pride for Hamas and for its prisoners,” Haniya told the crowd.
“The Zionist media are trying to... make a distinction between the military and political figures (in Hamas), but we tell them we are all fighters and that in the face of the occupation we are all military,” the former premier said.
Haniya is considered a supporter of a relatively moderate element in Hamas, while Sinwar is a top commander in its armed wing and strong advocate of armed struggle against Israel.
The former premier is seen by many observers as the most likely successor to Hamas’s overall leader Khaled Meshaal, who currently lives in exile.