Israeli troops have shot dead two Palestinian youths in the occupied West Bank,medical officials said on Thursday,as confrontations entered a third day following the death of a prisoner in an Israeli jail.
The Israeli army said troops fired on Palestinians who threw fire bombs after dark on Wednesday at a guard post near Tulkarm in the northern West Bank. One body was swiftly recovered and a second was found in the early hours of Thursday.
Palestinian officials named the dead men as Amer Nassar,17,and Naji Belbisi,18. The army said it was investigating the incident,which left at least one other Palestinian wounded.
Tensions have risen rapidly in the West Bank and Gaza Strip following the death from cancer on Tuesday of Maysara Abu Hamdeya,64,who was serving a life sentence in an Israeli jail.
Palestinians accuse Israel of withholding care from the man and failing to release him after diagnosing that his illness was terminal. Israel says it followed normal procedures.
Abu Hamdeya,who was serving a life term for a planned attack on a Jerusalem cafe in 2002,is due to be buried in Hebron later on Thursday and the army is braced for fresh violence. The funerals of Nassar and Belbisi are also expected later in the day.
The upsurge in violence comes just days before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah in hope of seeing progress towards reviving peace negotiations that broke down in 2010.
Israeli defence official Amos Gilad dismissed suggestions that a third popular uprising,or Intifada,was breaking out in the West Bank — territory Israel seized in the 1967 war and which is now home to more than 340,000 Jewish settlers.
“The term Third Intifada is meant to describe a general breakdown and uprising … There are no powers there pushing for a third Intifada or general uprising,” Gilad told Israel Radio.
Israeli jets on Tuesday carried out their first air strike on the Gaza Strip since a truce ended several days of fighting in November.
The military said it was responding to rockets fired earlier that day by an al Qaeda-linked group,Magles Shoura al-Mujahadeen. The group fired two more rockets on Wednesday and said it was responding to the death of Abu Hamdeya.
Another rocket hit an open area in southern Israel on Thursday,causing no casualties. No Gaza militant group claimed responsibility for the latest launch.
Israeli officials pressed Gaza’s ruling Islamist movement,Hamas,to rein in the rocket-firing militants after the most serious outbreak of cross-border hostilities since the ceasefire that ended the eight-day war in November.
Some 4,600 Palestinian prisoners declared a hunger strike for three days in protest at Abu Hamdeya’s death. In West Bank towns,some shops were shuttered in solidarity.
Commenting on the violence in Gaza,Richard Serry,the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process,said it was of “paramount importance to refrain from violence.”
He said in a statement that renewed violations of the ceasefire threatened to unravel Egyptian-brokered understandings that included an easing of Israel’s blockade on the enclave.
Egypt mediated the November truce after fighting in which some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed. Israel had launched that Gaza offensive,as it did a bigger campaign in 2008-09,with the declared aim of ending rocket fire.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement in 2007 after winning an election a year earlier. Palestinians want to establish a state in the enclave along with the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (Additional reporting by Noah Browning in Ramallah,Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Maayan Lubell,Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem;