Hundreds of Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli security forces Thursday, hurling rocks and burning tires at a West Bank demonstration to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Palestinians have staged protests across the West Bank all week in solidarity with the 4,500 prisoners held by Israel. Four of the prisoners are staging a hunger strike and the worsening condition of one, Samer Issawi, sparked the latest round of unrest between the protesters and Israeli troops.
His hunger strike has drawn international attention and concerns from notables such as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Issawi is incarcerated for violating the terms of his release from a previous prison term. On Thursday, an Israeli court sentenced him for eight months from the day of his arrest on July 7, meaning he could be freed as early as next month.
But Palestinians officials said it wasn't a done deal because Issawi also faces separate charges in a military court and there were no indications that he planned to end his hunger strike.
Some 2,000 people gathered at the Beitunia military checkpoint, hoping to march to a nearby military prison, where some of the prisoners are held. When the military prevented them from proceeding, protesters began rioting by hurling stones and burning tires. The demonstrators, some masked and others draped in the green flags associated with the militant group Hamas, attempted to block a road using large stones, garbage bins and tires set ablaze. Israeli soldiers responded with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd and a bulldozer cleared debris from the road.
Palestinian Red Crescent official Mohammad Samhan said 27 people were injured in the clashes. Some 30 others were treated for tear gas inhalation.
The Israeli military said there were an estimated 300 people demonstrating and that security forces used nonlethal means to break up what it called a violent riot. It said two Israeli civilians were injured. Video shot by The Associated Press showed an Israeli TV journalist running from the unrest, his hand covering a wound on his head, his face and shirt bloodied.
The Palestinians who are protesting consider all the prisoners heroes in their struggle against Israeli occupation. But much of the attention has focused on the 35-year-old Issawi, whose health has severely deteriorated after an on-again, off-again hunger strike stretching more than 200 days.
Issawi was hospitalized over the weekend after he lost consciousness, but his lawyers said his condition improved after receiving vitamins and minerals intravenously.
Last year, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners went on a mass hunger strike to demand better conditions in jail. In a deal mediated by Egyptian officials, they were promised more family visits and limits on administrative detention.
Issawi was among those freed in a 2011 exchange that released hundreds of Palestinians, many of them militants involved in deadly attacks, in exchange for an Israeli soldier held by Hamas-backed militants. Israel says Issawi was released after serving six years of a 26-year sentence for attempted murder and weapons possession charges among others.