Bethlehem Clashes Continue After Killings

Tom Rayner, Middle East News Editor

Clashes between youths and Israeli soldiers have continued for a second day in Bethlehem following the deaths of two young Palestinians.

The violence began last night following the funerals of a female student and a teenage boy, who died after being shot by Israeli soldiers in two separate incidents.

The UK Foreign Office has contacted the Israeli government to protest against its use of live ammunition for crowd control purposes.

This afternoon scores of youths took to the streets for the second day to launch rocks and Molotov cocktails at military positions near the security wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

Tear gas was fired back at them from checkpoint towers.

Last night at least 10 young people were injured, three seriously, as plastic-coated steel bullets were fired at the angry crowds.

One of those injured was 15-year-old Ahmed al Qadi, who was hit in the face by a tear gas canister, causing serious wounds to his face which required emergency plastic surgery.

Speaking to Sky News in the Beit Jala hospital, his father insisted his son had been an observer to the violence, and had not been throwing stones at the Israeli checkpoint.

The clashes began following the deaths of 22-year-old Lubna Hanash, a female student, and 15-year-old Salih al Amarin, who were both from the Bethlehem area.

Ms Hanash was shot yesterday outside the al Aroub refugee camp near Hebron.

The Israeli military claim the soldier that fired the fatal shots was travelling in a civilian car that had been attacked with fire bombs.

Salih was shot last Friday near the site of the recent clashes, but he died in hospital yesterday evening.

The deaths mean that a total of six Palestinian civilians have been killed by the Israeli military this month.

Abdi Fatah Hamayel, the governor of Bethlehem, told Sky News: "Those soldiers sitting in their towers behind the wall - are they really in danger? When a Palestinian child throws a stone or an empty bottle?

"They know for sure that none of their soldiers' lives are in danger from the rocks. We don't encourage this, but when the kids see this everyday from the Israelis, what do you expect from them? There is no excuse to shoot the kids with live bullets."

The recent spate of killings has prompted Israel's commander of operations in the West Bank, Brigadier Hagai Mordechai, to call for an immediate review of its rules of engagement .

A military police investigation has also begun into the shooting of Lubna Hanash.

But the situation has already provoked condemnation from the international community.

In a statement to Sky News a spokesperson for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said: "We are very concerned about six Palestinians killed by the Israeli Defence Force in different incidents in the past couple of weeks, including the two who died yesterday.

"We have raised these cases with the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and the relevant Israeli authority for the OPTs (COGAT).

"The UK has repeatedly made clear to Israel our longstanding concerns about the manner in which the IDF polices non-violent protests and the border areas, including use of live ammunition."

UN Middle East Peace Process envoy Robert Serry also expressed concern at the increased use of live fire by Israeli forces in the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called for an "immediate intervention to compel Israel to desist from these serious attacks on our people".

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