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Jailed Palestinian’s death triggers West Bank unrest

Prisoner’s cancer went untreated, leaders charge

JERUSALEM — The funeral of a Palestinian prisoner who died of cancer in Israeli custody set off displays of angry defiance Thursday in the West Bank city of Hebron. Masked gunmen loyal to the Palestinian president fired into the air to underscore calls for vengeance, and clashes erupted between Israeli soldiers and youths burning tires and hurling stones.

Near the city of Tulkarm, the burial of two other Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli forces Wednesday also became a rallying point for mourners calling for continued resistance against Israeli occupation.

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Unrest in the West Bank, which has been simmering for months, has raised the specter of a wider explosion of violence with some Palestinians in Hebron calling for a new uprising to liberate Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The charged atmosphere did not bode well for diplomacy, with Secretary of State John F. Kerry expected in the region next week in part to try to find a formula to restart peace negotiations.

The Palestinian leadership accused Israel of harming the US effort.

“This escalation proves that the Israeli government only looks at reality through brute power, settlement activities, and Judaization,’’ Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement.

Thousands in Hebron attended the funeral of the prisoner, Maysara Abu Hamdiya, 64, who died of cancer that, according to an Israeli autopsy, began in the vocal cords and had spread to the lungs, neck, chest, liver, spine, and ribs. The Palestinians have accused Israeli authorities of deliberately delaying his diagnosis and treatment. The Israeli prison service said a committee will examine the circumstances of his death.

A retired general in the Palestinian Authority security services, Hamdiya was buried with military honors. He was detained by Israel in 2002, at the height of the second Palestinian uprising, and was serving a life term for attempted murder for his involvement in a failed suicide bombing in a Jerusalem cafe.

The thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails hold a hallowed place in Palestinian society as heroic fighters for the cause, and Hamdiya’s death has stirred outrage. Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, have been among Palestinians accusing Israeli of embracing a policy of medical negligence. The Palestinian Authority’s minister of prisoner affairs, Issa Qaraqe, attended Hamdiya’s funeral along with many local dignitaries.

Hamdiya’s hometown, Hebron, in the southern West Bank, is notoriously volatile, with a few hundred Jewish settlers living amid about 170,000 Palestinians.

His death appeared to have unified the deeply divided Palestinians, at least temporarily. Flags of all the rival political and militant factions were raised in the crowds, including those of Fatah, the mainstream secularist party led by Abbas, and its rivals, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

With Palestinians in the city on a general strike, dozens of masked militiamen of Fatah’s Al Aksa Martyrs’ Brigade, who have mostly lain low in recent years, attended the funeral.

In a speech, a spokesman for the group said, ‘‘We will not allow the Israelis to kill our people, especially the prisoners.’’

He added, ‘‘We are calling on President Abbas to give us a green light to react to what happened to Maysara Abu Hamdiya.’’ The Israeli military reported groups of stone-throwing Palestinians on the main road to Hebron and at another location in the northern West Bank.

The Israeli military said that youths near the West Bank city of Tulkarm hurled firebombs at soldiers, who responded with live fire, killing two youths.

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