Israeli troops raided a house Friday to free four of their colleagues taken hostage by protesters amid violent clashes which saw at least 15 Palestinians hurt.
Four of the Palestinians were injured when more than 100 Israeli reinforcements arrived in this Palestinian-run town in armored vehicles to liberate the four soldiers who had been trapped inside the house.
The troops raided the house after brief negotiations with Palestinian security forces failed to obtain the soldiers' release in exchange for two Palestinians arrested during the clashes, which broke out after a demonstration in support of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Most of the injured, hit by rubber-coated steel bullets fired by Israeli soldiers, were carried away by fellow demonstrators under a cloud of tear gas.
At the start of the clashes, the protesters threw stones, some using slingshots, at the Israeli soldiers posted here to protect a Jewish site.
"No peace without the release of the prisoners!" the some 150 demonstrators in Bethlehem chanted.
"Prisoners we are with you until you are freed!" they yelled, some carrying Palestinian flags and others waving the green flag of the militant Islamic opposition group Hamas.
In the northern West Bank town of Nablus, some 2,000 Palestinians held a peaceful march in support of the nearly 1,600 Palestinian in Israeli jails.
Small clashes also erupted outside of Nablus after some 30 Palestinians marched on a checkpoint after the Friday afternoon prayers.
There were no reports of injuries there.
In the southern West Bank city of Hebron, some 400 Hamas members also marched holding pictures of prisoners and calling on Israel to release them.
"Revolution, revolution against the occupiers! Without the prisoners there is no solution!" they chanted.
The marches were part of a week of activities organized by prisoner advocacy groups to raise awareness about the prisoners, many of whom have been on an open-ended hunger strike since Monday -- BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AFP).
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)