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Clashes erupt in Israel as thousands march to protest shooting of Palestinian youth

Some 2,500 marched on Kfar Kanna as Palestinian citizens of Israel hold general strike
Protesters are arrested after at least 100 mainly younger Palestinians clash with police in northern Israel (MEE / Yotam Ronen)

KFAR KANNA, Israel: Clashes broke out on the main road of Kfar Kanna, a Arab town in the north of Israel on Saturday as thousands of protesters gathered to mark the killing of 22-year-old Khayr al-Din al-Hamdan.

At least three Palestinian youths were arrested as an estimated 100 to 200 hundred people began setting up barricades, made out of uprooted traffic signs. The protesters threw stones, while Israeli police responded with stun grenades, rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas.

Some older members of the 2,500-strong crowd tried to step in and prevent an escalation.

"Please let us deal with our youth, don't go in and shoot them" an old man, who did not want to give his name, shouted at the mounted police.

Police said that around 100 protesters had pelted policemen with rocks.

"Anti-riot police are working on halting the rock-throwing," the police added on Twitter.

Clashes of this magnitude are not common between Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Israeli authorities, with large-scale protests in recent months confined to East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Palestinian citizens of Israel, also called Arab Israelis by the Israeli authorities, make up about 20 percent of Israel’s eight million population.

Kfar Kanna has seen security seriously stepped up in the wake of the shooting, with extra police presence still visible in the town.

Hamdan was killed overnight after he charged an Israeli police car allegedly holding a knife. Israeli authorities initially said that they fired warning shots before shooting at Hamdan but CCTV footage from the scene later appeared contradicting the official line.

The video seems to indicate that the police were never in immediate danger, and that they fired at Hamdan at close range without letting off a warning shot. The Israeli authorities, however, continue to insist that the officers were in danger although they have said that protocol might have been broken and have wowed to probe the matter.

"The whole thing started when a police patrol car arrived at night to arrest an Arab man," Mujahid Awawdeh, the head of the Kafr Kanna council, told Anadolu Agency. "Khair al-Din Hemdan was at the scene and got into an argument with police, who shot him dead from a range of one meter."

A two-day general strike has also been called for by the local authorities, and is expected to take place in all Arab-dominated towns and villages across Israel, with some urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.

Tensions were palpable at the march, with local youth visibly angry and reluctant to speak directly with media.

A few of the youth, told MEE they did not want to be interviewed because they felt the media was working with the police and portraying them as stone throwers.  

Further clashes have also been slated for tomorrow. The upheaval inside Israel comes on the back of rising tensions in East Jerusalem which has seen almost nightly clashes between Israeli police and local youths.