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Clashes in Hebron over Palestinian prisoner death

For a fourth consecutive day April 5, young Palestinians in Hebron clashed with Israeli troops in protests over the death of an elderly prisoner in Israeli custody. The fiercest clashes took place in Bab al-Zawiya neighborhood in the center of Hebron April 4 after the funeral procession. Young protesters hurled stones, empty bottles and fire-bombs at Israeli troops who in turn used rubber-coated bullets and tear gas canisters. At least 20 protesters were injured. Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, 63, died April 2 at Israel's Soroka Hospital. Although he was diagnosed with cancer in January, it apparently went untreated; according to his lawyer, Rami Alami, he was only given painkillers and antibiotics. Palestinian officials charge that Israeli authorities refused to treat his cancer, ultimately causing his death. (Ma'an News Agency, April 5; Ma'an News AgencyDaily Beast, April 4)

Israeli forces on April 5 detained three Palestinians in clashes in the Issawiya neighborhood of Jerusalem. The Wadi al-Hilweh Information Center said that police special forces troops assaulted and detained three young men, and transferred them to al-Maskobiyeh detention center. Witnesses said that a special forces unit wearing tradition Palestinian scarfs infiltrated the neighborhood in a white van before confronting the young men. Police had deployed reinforcements in Jerusalem early in the day, fearing protests at al-Aqsa Mosque. Access by Palestinian men to the compound had been limited to those over the age of 50 and with Israeli-issued Jerusalem residency cards. There were no restrictions on women. (Daily Star, Lebanon, April 6; Ma'an, April 5)

UNRWA shuts down Gaza offices over protests
The UN agency for Palestine refugees said April 4 it is closing offices in the Gaza Strip in response to a "dramatic and disturbing" escalation in demonstrations over the week. Protesters have been demonstrating outside UNRWA's offices to protest a reduction in financial assistance to vulnerable Palestinian refugees, and on April 4 they managed to enter a central compound. In response, the agency said, all relief and distribution centers will remain closed "until guarantees are given by all relevant groups that UNRWA operations can continue unhindered."

The agency's large-scale food distribution program will continue operating, it said. "We fully understand the impact the decision to suspend cash assistance had on some of our beneficiaries," said UNRWA's Gaza director Robert Turner, in a statement. But he said the agency was expanding a job creation program that would mitigate the effects of reductions in cash to refugee families.

Turner said UNRWA officials “respect people's right to peaceful demonstration but what happened today was completely unacceptable: the situation could very easily have resulted in serious injuries to UNRWA staff and to the demonstrators. This escalation, apparently pre-planned, was unwarranted and unprecedented." The agency called on "all the groups behind today's event to immediately stop inciting crowds at these demonstrations and to conduct themselves in a responsible manner." It also called on the authorities in Gaza to "play their role in providing security and ensuring demonstrations remain peaceful." (Ma'an, April 5)

Abbas "to suspend unilateral action against Israel"
President Mahmoud Abbas will temporarily refrain from unilateral action against Israel to give US-brokered peace talks a chance to resume, a Palestinian official said on April 4. "Abbas and the Palestinian leadership have decided to give a sufficient chance for (US Secretary of State John) Kerry's efforts to succeed," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

For around two months, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority will suspend all unilateral measures through United Nations agencies, and will refrain from taking a case against Israel to the International Criminal Court, he said. During the two months, "the Palestinian leadership will not make new demands to UN agencies," the official said, adding that this would give US Secretary of State John Kerry enough time to set up a framework for renewed peace negotiations. The remarks came just days ahead of a visit by Kerry.

The official warned, however, that if Israel failed to halt settlement building, the PA would immediately begin working through the international bodies again. "Settlement building in E1 is a red line and erecting so much as one stone in the area...=would destroy the [possibility of a] two-state solution," he said. (Ma'an, April 4)

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