Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he won’t allow protests across the West Bank to escalate into more violent conflict with Israel while other leaders hailed the beginning of a new Palestinian uprising.
Abbas spoke today as Israel bolstered its security forces across the territory and thousands attended a funeral for a Palestinian who died in an Israeli prison, prompting accusations he was tortured. Israel said there was no evidence of torture and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held consultations with security advisers on addressing the unrest.
“The Israeli side wants to create chaos,” Abbas said at his headquarters in Ramallah. “We will not let the Israelis drag us into” a wider conflict.
The death in Israel’s Megiddo prison of Arafat Jaradat, a 30-year-old Palestinian from a village near Hebron, has added to tensions caused by a hunger strike to protest conditions for thousands of Palestinian inmates. The demonstrations have galvanized calls for a tougher Palestinian response to Israel’s 46-year occupation of the West Bank.
“This is the new intifada,” Mustafa Barghouti, a rival to Abbas in the 2005 presidential election, said in a telephone interview, using the Arabic word associated with two previous uprisings. “A popular resistance has started.”
Netanyahu issued a statement saying that he was consulting with Israeli security officials to prevent further violence.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the talks included Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, the military chief of staff, as well as top police and prison authority officials, “with the goal being to restore calm while maintaining security,” according to a statement from Barak’s office.
The top United Nations official managing Middle East peace efforts, Robert Serry, warned in a statement that “mounting tensions present a real risk of destabilization” between Israelis and Palestinians. He called for an “independent and transparent investigation” of Jaradat’s death.
“I don’t think we are seeing a third intifada, but there could be a deterioration that no one expected,” Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told Army Radio. “This needs to be dealt with through readiness on the part of intelligence units and preparedness of the forces on the ground, so that they act with great restraint.”
The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem cited demonstrations across the territory when it issued a travel warning today, limiting official trips by its personnel in the West Bank and barring personal trips to Bethlehem.