By Yosri Al Jamal and Ali Sawafta
HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli security forces killed nine Palestinians and wounded dozens in confrontations across the West Bank on Friday, the Palestinian health ministry said, after the Israeli military ordered almost half of Gaza’s population to leave their homes.
The Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza and its West Bank rival Fatah called on Palestinians to march in solidarity with the blockaded enclave, which Israel has been heavily bombarding in retaliation for a Hamas attack in southern Israeli towns on Saturday. More than 1,700 Palestinians at least 1,300 Israelis have been killed.
On Friday, Israel called for all civilians in the northern half of Gaza, more than 1 million people, to relocate south within 24 hours as it amassed tanks for an expected ground assault. The United Nations warned this could not happen “without devastating humanitarian consequences”.
In a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jordan on Friday, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA), said that the forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza would constitute a repeat of 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from what is now Israel. Most Gazans are the descendants of such refugees.
The escalation in Gaza has worsened violence that had already been surging for months in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, where Israeli troops have killed at least 43 Palestinians during clashes since Saturday, according to Palestinian officials.
In Hebron, thousands of men and women took to the streets, waving the flags of both Hamas and Fatah. They carried signs that read “Stop the Gaza genocide” and “U.S. capitalism is addicted to war.”
In the northern city of Nablus, youths clashed with the Israeli military, flipping cars and setting tyres and garbage cans on fire to block roads. By Friday afternoon, Palestinian fighters were still engaged in gunfights with Israeli soldiers in different areas of the Palestinian territory, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule.
The Israeli military has said it is prepared for an escalation in the West Bank and its forces have been on high alert, carrying out arrests and thwarting possible attacks.
The Palestinian Prisoners Association said Israel arrested at least 60 people in the West Bank on Friday, among them Hamas leaders.
The Palestinian Authority wants an independent state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, areas Israel captured in a 1967 Middle East war. That prospect seems as far away as ever amid expanding Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, cutting communities from each other, and a freeze in U.S.-sponsored negotiations.
Abbas has condemned violence against civilians and said the PA would pursue political action to achieve its goals. Statements by his Fatah party have said Palestinians had a right to resist Israel’s decades-old occupation and confront Israel’s military.
(Reporting by Yosri Al Jamal, Ali Sawafa and Raneen Sawafta; Writing by Henriette Chacar; Editing by Nick Macfie)