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Tuesday February 25th, 2020 3:40AM

Palestinians protest US settlement decision in ‘day of rage’

By The Associated Press
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Thousands of Palestinian protesters took part in a “day of rage” across the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, with some groups clashing with Israeli forces to protest the U.S. announcement that it no longer believes Israeli settlements violate international law.

Around 2,000 people gathered in the West Bank city of Ramallah by midday, where they set ablaze posters of U.S. President Donald Trump as well as Israeli and American flags. Schools, universities and government offices were closed and rallies were being held in other West Bank cities.

“The biased American policy toward Israel, and the American support of the Israeli settlements and the Israeli occupation, leaves us with only one option: To go back to resistance,” Mahmoud Aloul, an official with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement, told the crowd in Ramallah.

Demonstrators held signs reading: “Trump to impeachment, (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu to jail, the occupation will go and we will remain on our land.”

At Israeli checkpoints near Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron, dozens of protesters threw stones at Israeli forces who responded with tear gas. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Later in the evening, the Israeli military said it identified two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel. One was intercepted by an Iron Dome missile battery. It was the second such attack in as many days by Palestinian militants, and Israeli aircraft retaliated with attacks on several Hamas sites in Gaza. There were no reports of injuries.

The protests came just hours after the death of a Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody following a battle with cancer. Organizers had said the demonstrations — which were planned before his death — would also call for the release of Sami Abu Diak, 35, to allow him to die at his family’s side. Israeli officials denied the request.

Organized by Fatah, Tuesday’s “day of rage” protested the Trump administration’s announcement on Israeli settlements last week. The decision upended four decades of American policy and embraced a hard-line Israeli view at the expense of the Palestinian quest for statehood.

Israeli leaders welcomed the U.S. decision, while the Palestinians and most of the world say the settlements are illegal and undermine hopes for a two-state solution by gobbling up land sought by the Palestinians.

Israel says the fate of the settlements should be determined in negotiations, even as it steadily expands them.

Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and quickly began settling the newly conquered territory. Today, some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the two areas, which are both claimed by the Palestinians for their state.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced last week that the U.S. was repudiating the 1978 State Department legal opinion.

That opinion had been the basis for more than 40 years of carefully worded U.S. opposition to settlement construction that had varied in its tone and strength, depending on the president’s position. President Ronald Reagan, for instance, said settlements were not inherently illegal, though he called them unhelpful and provocative. Other administrations had called them “illegitimate” and “obstacles to peace.”

Abu Diak, the Palestinian prisoner, died in an Israeli hospital early Tuesday, according to Israel’s prisons service. In a statement, it said he was serving three life sentences for voluntary manslaughter and kidnapping, among other charges.

He was linked to the armed wing of Fatah and was arrested in the early 2000s, during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising. He was allegedly involved in the killing of three Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israeli security forces.

The Palestinian Authority had reached out to European countries and the Red Cross to apply pressure on Israel to release him.

Previous deaths of terminally ill Palestinian prisoners have sparked protests and accusations of medical negligence on the part of Israeli authorities.

___

This story corrects the charges attributed to Abu Diak.

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