Bethlehem - Ma'an - Israeli forces used live fire on Palestinian demonstrators protesting Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank village of Nil'in on Friday, activists said and the military confirmed.
Rumors had been circulating that the Israelis would respond more harshly than usual due to the activists' success in pulling down a section of the wall at the Qalandiya military checkpoint a week earlier.
"These rumors were confirmed," said Ibraheem Amera, coordinator of the Nil'in popular committee. "A huge army of Israeli soldiers was awaiting [protesters] and immediately started [to] fire huge amounts of tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets and also live ammunition."
Amera said the popular committee had warned protesters to be extra cautious on Friday, because he believed a "decision was made by the Israeli military, because in Nil'in the wall has been taken down twice already by the people, and after the fall of the wall in Qalandiya, the Israeli military is afraid that the 'Nil'in falling wall virus' will start to spread throughout the whole West Bank."
Two Palestinians, including a medic, were reportedly injured, according to a statement from the committee, after Israeli forces made an incursion through fields from three different sides, closing in on a group of around 100 demonstrators. "The army was shooting live ammunition from a distance of less than three meters... and two people sustained minor injuries from grazing shots."
A witness said one soldier ran up to a Palestinian Red Crescent Society media, "grabbed him by the neck and pushed him to the ground, then the soldier started beating him. The volunteer sustained no serious injuries, except for some bruises."
An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed that soldiers fired .22 calibre rounds, but insisted that they were used within the army's rules of engagement, and only when protesters turned violent. She pointed out that a soldier was lightly injured by rocks that she said were thrown by protesters.Protests continue throughout West Bank
In the nearby village of Bil'in, residents gathered at a large demonstration called by the popular committee in honor of the death of Yasser Arafat. They were joined by international and Israeli activists, as well as a group of members and supporters of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash) and a delegation of members of the Palestinian People's Party.
The protest was led by Israeli Knesset Member Mohammed Baraka, the front's general secretary. One international activist was injured and dozens suffered tear-gas inhalation when Israeli forces opened fire. Protesters expressed solidarity with Baraka, who will stand on trial in next week as a result of his participation in one of the demonstrations in 2005.
Demonstrators wore t-shirts with a slogan commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, "From Berlin to Bil'in, The Wall Shall Fall." They also chanted slogans against the Israeli wall.
An international activist from the United States was also injured, the popular committee said.
In Al-Mas'ara, a village near Bethlehem, residents gathered raised Palestinian flags and banners demanding that farmers be allowed to access their lands to pick olives. As they have every Friday for the past three years, protesters were intercepted by Israeli soldiers who had set up a barbed-wire fence at the entrance to the village, effectively cutting off the villagers' access to their lands.
Demonstrators chanted against "the discriminatory policies of the occupation and reminded [them] that only this morning, farmers who were picking olives on their lands in the surrounding villagers were harassed by settlers while Israeli soldiers stood by," the local popular committee said in a statement.
In Arabic and English, protestors asked the soldiers to reconsider their occupations and join the Palestinian, Israeli and international civilians "on this side [of the wall] who abide by the international human rights and who work together for just peace."
Protestors attempted to remove the barb wire and continue their march towards their lands and the site of the wall, including one who managed to get by. "A woman from the village asked the Israeli soldiers what they were doing here in her village and pushed them out of her way, succeeding in continuing her walk towards Um Salamoneh, defiantly carrying the Palestinian flag," the statement said.