After Qalandia killings, shops close in Jerusalem and Ramallah, and Al Aqsa brigade members brandish AK-47s 28Aug13 August 28, 2013

MONDOWEISS     -    27 August 2013

Funerals for the three Palestinians killed earlier today in an Israeli incursion into Qalandia refugee camp were over by morning’ s end, but ten hours later the clashes continued. Robin Zayed, Younis Jahjouh and Jihad Aslan died from live-fire and another 19 were wounded.

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Road leading from Ramallah to Jerusalem, closed by Palestinians from Qalandia refugee camp. (Photo: Allison Deger)
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Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades marching in Qalandia.

Tensions remained high all day. By afternoon refugees strategically blocked driving access to the main road between Ramallah and Jerusalem, a road that runs through the center of the Qalandia refugee camp and is the only way to reach the main checkpoint out of the West Bank into Jerusalem.

Acting as traffic directors, youths from the neighborhood told drivers where to leave their cars, and sent those on their way to Jerusalem and Israel through a cramped back road. The street was cleared because an impromptu parade was forming behind two members of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades who fired rounds from AK47s diagonally into the sky. The masked gunmen were within eye- and earshot of another armed group of young men, the Israeli military.

After the gun salute the youths quickly escaped into the narrow paths leading to Qalandia refugee camp. Once the armed duo re-entered the limited protection of their community in Area C of the West Bank, where the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have full security control, another set of youngsters linked arms and forbade outsiders from breaching the eastern part of the refugee camp.

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Palestinians youths duck behind mattress during clashes with the Israeli military.
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Palestinian youths clash with the Israeli military at Qalandia checkpoint.

Meanwhile, based at the checkpoint, the Israeli military fired tear gas and rubber bullets at Palestinians who threw stones. In the background, more rounds from Al-Aqsa Brigades could be heard. It was not a typical confrontation; normally the main artery between the West Bank and Jerusalem is chaotic sea of travelers, who continue even as clashes progress. But on this occasion the checkpoint was a landscape of pedestrians, the metal gates of closed shops, and columns of black smoke from burning tires. Elsewhere in Jerusalem and in Ramallah, the economic centers were shut down– a throwback to national mourning days from the time of the second Intifada.

Witnesses from Qalandia told Al-Quds that the three Palestinians killed were not involved in the morning clashes. Roused by the militarized commotion, they’d gone out to see what was going on and were felled by indiscriminate fire from Israeli forces.

Often incursions into West Bank localities take place between 2 and 4 am. Soldiers can infiltrate and exit a camp, or even a city, undetected, making arrests before sunrise. According to the IDF Spokesman’s office an initial group of eight border police accessed Qalandia in order to arrest one man, a recently-released prisoner.

However, the Israeli human rights group B’tselem offered a different version of the incursion: that the army did not enter the camp with Jeeps until 6 am, staying for at least one hour.

Witnesses said the first group of Israeli police wore civilian clothes. It wasn’t a quiet operation. “An undercover Israeli special forces unit stormed Qalandia Refugee Camp and blew the door of the family home of Yousf al-Khatib,” the man the police were seeking to arrest, reported Al-Quds. The blast awoke many in the camp who then pelted Israeli officers with furniture, stones and firebombs. At that time an army unit was deployed to “aid other security forces.” It was these supporting soldiers who “used live fire,” said a representative from the IDF spokesman’s office, adding “this was not a raid.”

“Large violent crowds,” said IDF Col. Peter Lerner, “which significantly outnumbered security forces leave no other choice but to resort to live fire in self-defense.” The spokesman’s office added that an investigation into the deaths has been ordered. “At this early stage,” said B’tselem, which is also conducting its own investigation, “it appears that the stone-throwing was more massive today as the security forces remained in the camp until around 6:45 am, a busy hour on the street.”

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Shops closed in Ramallah for a day of mourning, after three Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.

Back in Ramallah, the heart of Palestinian political life, the stores are still closed as nightfall approaches. The de-facto capital is protesting, and so is the leadership. After the three from Qalandia were killed, the Palestinian Authority announced negotiations planned to take place today in Jericho with Israeli officials had been cancelled.

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