Israeli troops fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at a peaceful demonstration of Palestinian students protesting the blockade of a road leading to the West Bank university of Birzeit on Tuesday, according to an AFP reporter who witnessed the clash.
The protest came hours after Israel claimed it was easing the siege on Nablus and planned to make similar moves in Qalqilya, Jericho and Ramallah.
Around 2,000 Palestinians, mostly students and staff of the university on the edge of Ramallah, had gathered near the Israeli roadblock to protest against the army's restrictions on their movement, said AFP.
Palestinian media reports said the army restrictions had led to a pregnant Palestinian woman giving birth at the Surda checkpoint while heading for Ramallah Hospital.
Local residents also joined the rally against restrictions on the road, which is used by thousands of Palestinians.
A few hundred people sat down in front of the soldiers at the roadblock, singing and chanting, while others tried to remove earthworks in front of the checkpoint.
International students tried to put themselves between an Israeli army patrol and the students removing the earth.
The troops opened fire with tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets on the crowd of protestors blocking the road. Three people slightly wounded by the bullets and were evacuated in ambulances.
The demonstrators retreated and the gathering broke up.
In an open letter to the Israeli army, the university organizers appealed to the Israeli troops manning the roadblock to "search your consciences and your hearts" and stop the restrictions on students and lecturers trying to get to classes.
Meanwhile, the official Kuwaiti news agency (KUNA) quoted Tuesday a Palestinian official as denying reports that the Israeli occupation forces had slackened the siege it has been imposing on Palestinian towns and villages for months. Brigadier Omar Ashour, commander of the Palestinian military liaison, told KUNA that the reported easing of restrictions was only propaganda, referring to statements by Israeli security authorities about lifting the blockade and facilitating movement of Palestinians across the demarcation line.
Ashour also told KUNA that Israeli forces had continued to attack Palestinian areas, even at times when Palestinian and Israeli security officials were meeting.
Ashour added that Israeli troops manning a checkpoint on Road-4 that links the towns of Gaza, had deliberately kept Palestinian motorists stranded for at least two hours in the line, while they allow any Jewish settler to pass without any delay.
The Israeli army has numerous checkpoints inside the Occupied Territories to enforce tight control of Palestinians' movement. The army says the measures are needed to protect Israelis from attack by militant groups.
The Palestinian newspaper Al Quds said Tuesday that a pregnant Palestinian woman gave birth at a checkpoint late Monday after Israeli forces prevented the ambulance she was in from passing.
It said Sahar Zuhdi Musa Sharakeh, 23, from the Jalazon refugee camp, gave birth in the ambulance at the checkpoint after failing to make it to Ramallah University.
At a separate roadblock west of Ramallah Monday, Israeli soldiers shot a Palestinian boy in the back, seriously injuring him, after he had passed through the military checkpoint, witnesses said.
The Israeli army on Monday was due to begin withdrawing tanks from Area A, in the vicinity of Nablus, following an order given by Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer.
Further pullouts were expected in the vicinity of Ramallah and Qalqilya later in the day, according to the Tel Aviv-based Haaretz newspaper.
A security meeting between the head of the Palestinian police in Gaza, General Abd Al Raziq Majaideh, and the head of the Israeli army Southern Command, Major General Doron Almog, took place at Beit Hanoun (Eretz) crossing point between Gaza and Israel on Monday afternoon, despite continuing violence.
A military source told the paper that lower-level meetings could take place on Tuesday.
The blockade on Jericho has allegedly been ordered lifted, and Palestinians will supposedly be allowed to travel on the Jordan Valley highway under the new orders, but only with special permits issued for that purpose.
The main highway from Gaza City to Rafiah will also be opened to Palestinian travel, said Haaretz.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat accused Israel of deliberately escalating attacks on Palestinians despite a renewed ceasefire pledge by both sides.
Arafat was speaking during a visit to Tunisia, five days after he and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres reaffirmed their truce commitment.
Israeli troops have shot dead 17 Palestinians in that period – Albawaba.com
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