Two Palestinians die in shootings as tensions with Israel escalate

Gunfire and clashes with Israeli troops left two Palestinians dead and three wounded at a refugee camp near Jerusalem yesterday morning, a Palestinian health official said.

A Palestinian protester uses a sling shot to hurl stones at Israeli troops during clashes after the funerals of Ahmed Abu al-Aish, 28, and Laith Manasrah, 21, from Qalandia refugee camp. Picture: Getty

According to Palestinian Health Ministry spokesman Mohammed Awawdeh, a 21-year-old, and a 28-year-old were killed during an exchange of gunfire between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops which at the Qalandia refugee camp straddling the area between the West Bank and Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries.

The Israeli military said troops entered Qalandia to demolish the home of a Palestinian whom the army says shot and killed an Israeli motorist in the West Bank this summer. The motorist had stopped to give the Palestinian directions to a nearby spring.

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The presence of Israeli troops in the camp carrying out the demolition spurred yesterday’s clashes. The army said Palestinians opened fire at the Israeli forces and they returned fire at the attackers. Three “hits” were confirmed, the military said, without elaborating.

It was unclear if a third Palestinian was killed. Officials said one Palestinian was taken into Israeli custody. Military spokeswoman Libby Weiss said troops had made no arrests at the scene.

Hundreds of Palestinians threw firebombs and rocks at Israeli forces while they were demolishing the home, and troops fired rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the protesters, the military said.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the incident would not make Israel rethink the demolitions policy, revived with the permission of Israel’s Supreme Court but criticised by civil rights groups which deem it collective punishment.

“There was, indeed, violent resistance in Qalandia, but the [Israeli military] unit conducted itself in a very professional manner. It also carried out the mission, blowing up the home. It also hit the gunmen – four of them, according to the unit,” Mr Yaalon told Israel Radio.

Asked whether the incident might make Israel think twice about such demolitions, he said: “Under no circumstances... There is no doubt fear of a home getting destroyed is a measure that offers great deterrence.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyal al-Maliki, speaking on Voice of Palestine radio, described the Qalandia incident as “clear escalation, clear assassination” by Israel.

The latest killings come amid a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence in the last two months. Palestinian attacks, mainly stabbings, have killed 14 Israelis, and at least 83 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including 53 whom Israel says were involved in assaults. The rest were killed in clashes with security forces.

In recent days, Israel has renewed a policy of demolishing homes belonging to Palestinians accused of carrying out deadly attacks against Israelis.

On Saturday, Israel demolished three homes in the West Bank belonging to attackers who killed an Israeli couple in the West Bank on 1 October.

The same day, the military demolished a home belonging to a man who killed an Israeli on his way home from a basketball game. Israel says home demolition is a legal and effective tool to deter attacks, but critics say the tactic amounts to collective punishment.