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Palestinian prisoner buried, as Israel, West Bank leaders try to prevent clashes

Palestinian women mourn during the funeral of Arafat Jaradat in the West Bank town of Saeer, on Feb. 25, 2013. Thousands attended the funeral procession of the 30-year-old Palestinian who died under disputed circumstances in Israeli custody. (Bernat Armangue/AP)

A Palestinian prisoner who died in an Israeli jail was given a hero’s burial with military honors in the West Bank on Monday amid signs that Palestinian and Israeli leaders were working to prevent days of street clashes from triggering a wider eruption of unrest.

The surge of protests, which had stoked Israeli fears of a third Palestinian uprising, was sparked by an extended hunger strike by four Palestinian prisoners and fueled by Saturday’s death of another detainee, Arafat Jaradat, who was under interrogation by Israel’s Shin Bet security agency.

Palestinian officials said an Israeli autopsy attended by the Palestinian Authority’s chief forensic pathologist showed that Jaradat had been tortured. But Israeli health officials said that the preliminary findings did not indicate a cause of death and that further tests were needed.

Draped in a Palestinian flag, Jaradat’s body was taken to his home town of Sair, north of Hebron, with an honor guard of Palestinian security officers who fired a rifle salute near the grave site.

Thousands joined the funeral procession, which was punctuated by shots fired by masked gunmen of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. A statement by the group distributed to the crowd vowed to avenge Jaradat’s death. “We promise the Zionist occupation that we will respond to this crime,” it said.

But Abbas sounded a different note in remarks at his headquarters in Ramallah, urging Palestinians not to be swept up in a cycle of deadly confrontation with the Israelis.

“The Israelis want chaos, and we know how to act,” he said. “We won’t let them play with the lives of our sons.”

“No matter how much they try to drag us back to their square, we will not be dragged,” Abbas added. “They bear the responsibility.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has demanded that the Palestinian Authority rein in the protests, held security consultations Monday on the situation in the West Bank, as did Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who met army generals and intelligence chiefs to discuss ways to “restore calm,” his office said.

Contacts have also been held between Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, a top Defense Ministry official responsible for the West Bank, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a ministry spokesman said.

“At this stage, the Israeli policy is focused on a containment effort,” wrote Amos Harel, military correspondent for the Haaretz daily, echoing other assessments that the army was trying to avoid fatal incidents that could spur wider unrest. Soldiers have mostly relied on nonlethal crowd-
control weapons such as tear gas and rubber-coated bullets.

In fresh clashes after Jaradat’s funeral, hundreds of stone-throwing youths faced off with Israeli troops at several military positions across the West Bank. Confrontations erupted in Hebron, where Israeli forces protect enclaves
of Jewish settlers; near the Israeli-run Ofer prison outside Ramallah; and near the shrine of Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, which is protected by an Israeli military guard tower.

Palestinians reported that more than a dozen people were injured by rubber-coated bullets, one of them seriously, and that a 13-year-old boy was seriously wounded by live ammunition in Bethlehem. An Israeli military spokesman confirmed that live fire was used, saying it was directed at Palestinians who hurled makeshift grenades, endangering Jewish worshipers at Rachel’s Tomb.

In a sign of the unsettled situation in the West Bank, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, which is responsible for contacts with the Palestinian Authority, issued a statement announcing a temporary limit on travel by American officials to the area. It also advised U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel to the West Bank and to “exercise an extra measure of caution during this period.”

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