Palestinian man killed in West Bank clash

September 23, 2011 - 11:55 AM
Mideast Israel Palestinians

Israeli border police arrest a Palestinian youth for throwing stones at their checkpoint in Ras al-Amud neighborhood of East Jerusalem, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, just hours before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was to deliver his widely anticipated request to the United Nations. (AP Photo/Sliman Khader)

QUSRA, West Bank (AP) — Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man during a clash between West Bank villagers and Israeli settlers Friday, according to witness and military accounts. The shooting came amid heightened tensions over the Palestinians' bid to seek U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine.

There has been concern that the Palestinian recognition request, delivered by President Mahmoud Abbas to the United Nations on Friday, could trigger violence by Israeli settlers or Palestinian protesters.

The deadly clash near the West Bank village of Qusra was witnessed by an AP photographer, who said the confrontation began when Israeli settlers burned and uprooted trees in the area. The Israeli military said settlers and Palestinian villagers threw stones at each other, and confirmed that soldiers at some point started firing live rounds.

The military said soldiers opened fire after villagers threw rocks at them. The army said it was working with Palestinian security officials to investigate.

The victim was identified as Issam Badran, a 35-year-old laborer and father of seven, said a village resident, Mohammed Khalil.

Khalil said he and Badran were in the area of the clash when they heard gunshots and started running away. He said he heard Badran call out his name as they were running. "I turned around, and he had fallen," Khalil said outside the morgue of Nablus' Rafidiyeh Hospital, where the body had been taken. Medics said Badran was shot in the neck.

Earlier Friday, Palestinians calling for U.N. recognition clashed with Israeli soldiers in three other West Bank locations. The confrontations involved several dozen Palestinians in each area.

At Qalandiya, a major Israeli checkpoint between the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israeli troops fired tear gas to disperse Palestinian stone-throwers. The confrontations lasted several hours, and by late afternoon, and medics said some 70 Palestinians had been injured by rubber-coated steel pellets or suffered tear gas inhalation.

In the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, demonstrators carried a chair painted in the U.N.'s signature blue to symbolize the quest for recognition. They burned Israeli flags and posters of President Barack Obama, and threw stones before being enveloped by tear gas fired by Israeli troops. Clashes were also reported in the nearby village of Bilin.

Abbas has called for peaceful marches in support of his bid to win U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

In the West Bank, outdoor screens were set up in town squares for residents to watch Abbas' speech together.

In Ramallah, the seat of Abbas' government, volunteers set up plastic chairs in front of a screen in the main square.

About an hour before the speech, hundreds of Palestinians, waving flags, had already crowded into the square. A popular song about the recognition bid, with the verse "Announce it, my people, announce it, the state of Palestine, announce it," blasted from car stereos. Motorists honking horns drove through the main street.

"I am waiting for the speech," said an unemployed man, Ahmed Tutanji, sipping coffee from a plastic cup. "I am waiting to see what happens. Will this be resolved or not? Will we have a state? We should have a state. We have been demanding this for years."

Full U.N. membership can only be bestowed by the U.N. Security Council, where Abbas' request will almost certainly be derailed — either by a failure to win the needed nine votes in the 15-member body or by a U.S. veto if the necessary majority is obtained.

The Palestinians say they are seeking full U.N. membership to underscore their right to statehood, but have left open the option of a lesser alternative — a non-member observer state. Such a status would be granted by the General Assembly, where the Palestinians enjoy broad support.

Siding with Israel, Obama has said a Palestinian state can only be established as a result of negotiations, and that there is no short-cut to independence.

Abbas has said negotiations remain his preference, but that he will not resume talks — frozen since 2008 — unless Israel agrees to the pre-1967 frontier as a baseline and freezes all settlement construction on occupied land. The Palestinian demands are widely backed by the international community, including the U.S., but Obama has been unable to persuade Israel's hardline prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to agree to them.

Netanyahu says he wants to negotiate without preconditions and accuses the Palestinians of missing an opportunity for peace. Abbas says settlement expansion pre-empts the outcome of negotiations by creating facts on the ground.

Abbas enjoys broad popular support at home for his recognition bid, but his main political rival, the Islamic militant Hamas, opposes it. Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip since seizing it from Abbas in a violent takeover in 2007.

Gaza's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, said Friday that Abbas was giving up Palestinian rights by seeking recognition for a state in the pre-1967 borders.

Hamas' founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and a state in all of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.

"The Palestinian people do not beg the world for a state, and the state can't be created through decisions and initiatives," Haniyeh said. "States liberate their land first and then the political body can be established."

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Associated Press writers Dalia Nammari in Ramallah, Nasser Shiyoukhi in Hebron and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.