Violence erupted in the West Bank once again on Friday, this time reportedly over Jewish settlements, just two weeks after the Gaza ceasefire.
Palestinians were seen throwing rocks at Israeli forces who responded by firing tear gas at the protesters amid the clashes at Ni'lin village, west of Ramallah city.
According to the WAFA - the Palestinian news agency - Israeli Defence Force (IDF) troops also fired live and rubber-coated rounds to disperse the protesters.
As a result, the agency reported that at least two Palestinians were injured in the clashes and were taken to hospital for treatment, although other medical sources suggested as many as 27 were injured - 15 with live bullets.
Pictures from the clashes appeared to back up the claim that more than two people were injured in the fighting.
Friday's clashes reportedly broke out following the weekly Friday prayers.
The agency said Palestinian villages had been holding weekly protests in the region amid fears of an Israeli plan to claim land in the West Bank, which remains largely contested after years of dispute.
While Palestinians argue that the land belongs to them and that Israel are pushing to colonise it, Israel makes the case that the land once belonged to the Jewish people and should be returned.
There are fears continued clashes such as these could trigger another conflict between Hamas - the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza - and Israel.
Meanwhile, a long-running campaign by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families in east Jerusalem is still underway, even after it fueled weeks of unrest and helped ignite an 11-day Gaza war.
An intervention by Israel's attorney general at the height of the unrest has put the most imminent evictions on hold. But rights groups say evictions could still proceed in the coming months as international attention wanes, potentially igniting another round of bloodshed.
The settlers have been waging a decades-long campaign to evict the families from densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods in the so-called Holy Basin just outside the walls of the Old City, in one of the most sensitive parts of east Jerusalem.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, in the 1967 war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. Israel views the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The settlers are using a 1970 law that allows Jews to reclaim properties lost during the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation, a right denied to Palestinians who lost property in the same conflict, including Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The Israeli rights group Ir Amim, which closely follows the various court cases, estimates that at least 150 households in the neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan have been served with eviction notices and are at various stages in a long legal process.
The plight of four extended families comprising six households in Sheikh Jarrah, who were at risk of imminent eviction, triggered protests that eventually merged with demonstrations over the policing of a flashpoint holy site.
After warning Israel to halt the evictions and withdraw from the site, Hamas fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem on May 10, triggering heavy fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza.
As tensions rose, Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit secured the postponement of the final hearing in the case of the four families.
Another group of families requested that the attorney general also intervene in their cases, securing a delay. Israelis are currently trying to form a new government, adding more uncertainty to the process.
That has bought time for the families, but nothing has been resolved.
Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes on Gaza during the 11-day war, in which Hamas and other militant groups fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel.
At least 254 people were killed in Gaza, including 67 children and 39 women. according to the Gaza health ministry.
Hamas has acknowledged the deaths of 80 militants. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.
Meanwhile, Egypt has sent a convoy of engineers and building equipment to Gaza to begin reconstruction in the Palestinian enclave after the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Egyptian state television reported on Friday.
Dozens of bulldozers, cranes and trucks flying Egyptian flags lined up along the border to begin crossing into the Gaza Strip, television pictures showed.
Palestinians lined the street on the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing to welcome the convoy as it rumbled into the small coastal enclave. A Palestinian border official said 50 vehicles had crossed.
'We rushed with all our money, equipment, and what we owned to join the Palestinians in the rebuilding. Every Muslim and every Egyptian wishes to take part in [the reconstruction],' Egyptian truck driver Mahmoud Ismail told Reuters in Gaza.
Egypt played a major role in brokering a ceasefire between both sides and has said it would allocate $500 million to fund the rebuilding of devastated areas in Gaza.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem on Friday reiterated the group's appreciation of Egyptian contributions to the rebuilding efforts.
Gaza's housing ministry said 1,500 housing units were destroyed during the fighting, another 1,500 housing units had been damaged beyond repair and 17,000 suffered partial damage. A ministry official put the cost of rebuilding at $150 million.
Egypt in February opened the Rafah crossing until further notice after Palestinian factions moved towards reconciliation following talks in Cairo.
It had previously been opening the crossing for only a few days at a time to allow stranded travellers to pass. The 365-sq km (141-sq mile) Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, is home to around 2 million Palestinians. An Israeli-led blockade has put restrictions on the movement of people and goods for years.
#UPDATE Israel faces a widening conflict, as deadly violence erupted across the West Bank amid a massive aerial bombardment in Gaza and unprecedented unrest among Arabs and Jews inside the country https://t.co/NSXLpDayoH pic.twitter.com/GP1CPVnSq2— AFP News Agency (@AFP) May 14, 2021
When it comes to the West Bank, 'Everything is very much hanging in the balance,' said Amy Cohen, a spokeswoman for Ir Amim. Rights advocates fear Israel will proceed with the evictions once the furor dies down and international attention turns elsewhere.
'We're talking about over 1,000 Palestinians in both these two areas that are at risk of mass displacement,' Cohen said. 'Because these measures are taking place in such an incremental manner, it's so much easier to dismiss.'
The families in Sheikh Jarrah are stuck in limbo. A total of at least 65 families in two areas of the neighborhood are threatened with eviction, according to Ir Amim, including a group of families set to be evicted in August.
Banners hang in the street in Sheikh Jarrah, and small, occasional protests are still held there. Police man checkpoints at either end of the road and keep watch as Jewish settlers - who seized one of the homes in 2009 - come and go.
The settlers say they acquired the land from Jews who owned it before the 1948 war, when Jordan captured what is now east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Jordan settled several Palestinian families on the land in the early 1950s after they fled from what is now Israel during the 1948 war. Settlers began trying to evict them shortly after Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 war.
For Palestinians, the evictions conjure bitter memories of what they refer to as the Nakba, or 'catastrophe,' of Israel's creation, when some 700,000 Palestinians - a majority of the population - fled or were driven from their homes as the new state battled five Arab armies. Most ended up in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring countries.
'This isn't just about Sheikh Jarrah, it's about the entire Israeli occupation, that's the problem. They aren't going to stop here,' says Saleh al-Diab, who was born, grew up, married and raised his own children in one of the homes under threat in Sheikh Jarrah.
'You lose your home to them in 1948 and then they come back after 1967 and take your home again,' he said.
Yaakov Fauci, a settler from Long Island, New York, who gained internet fame after a widely circulated video showed a Palestinian resident scolding him for stealing her home, says the Palestinians are squatting on private property.
'They've lived here since 1956. This is not exactly ancestral land going back to the times of Abraham,' he said. Fauci says he is a tenant and has no personal involvement in the legal dispute, but he insists the land belongs to the Jewish people.
'We don't want to cause them any pain and suffering, but we need to have our land back,' he said. 'If there are people there, they have to unfortunately get out.'
Ir Amim estimates that settler organizations have already evicted 10 families in Sheikh Jarrah and at least 74 families in Silwan, a few kilometers (miles) away, in the last few decades.
The Israeli government and a settler organization that markets properties in Sheikh Jarrah did not respond to requests for comment. Israel has previously said the evictions are a private real estate dispute and accused Hamas of seizing on the issue to incite violence.
The settler movement enjoys strong support from the Israeli government and the right-wing parties that dominate Israeli politics. The settlers have benefitted from Israeli policies going back to 1967 that have encouraged the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem while severely restricting the growth of Palestinian communities.
Today, more than 700,000 Jewish settlers live in both territories, mostly in built-up residential towns and neighborhoods. The Palestinians and much of the international community view the settlements as a violation of international law and a major obstacle to peace.
Ir Amim says Israeli authorities could intervene in any number of ways to prevent the Jerusalem evictions, including by modifying the law that allows settlers to take over such properties.
Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union, has demanded that Israel rein in the settlers as part of the informal truce brokered by Egypt that ended the Gaza war. Egyptian mediators are exploring ways to prevent the evictions, and previous cease-fires have included significant concessions to Hamas.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said Friday it had recalled its Gaza director after he faced threats over remarks in which he appeared to praise Israel's 'huge sophistication' in carrying out precision strikes during last month's Gaza war.
UNRWA, which provides essential health, education and other services in the territory, said late on Thursday that it was 'seriously concerned' about the threats, including a 'very large protest' outside its Gaza headquarters on Monday.
It said Gaza director Matthias Schmale and his deputy have been recalled to UNRWA's headquarters in east Jerusalem for 'consultations.' The agency cited media reports that 'Palestinian factions' had declared Schmale and his deputy persona non grata in Gaza but said it received no formal notification to that effect.
In an interview with Israel's Channel 12 TV last month, Schmale was asked about Israeli officials' assertions that airstrikes carried out during the 11-day war with the territory's militant Hamas rulers were 'very precise.'
'I'm not a military expert but I would not dispute that,' Schmale replied, adding that there was 'huge sophistication' in how Israel struck targets. But he also said colleagues told him the strikes were 'much more vicious in their impact' than in the 2014 Gaza war.
Schmale later expressed regret over the remarks and said any civilian deaths were unacceptable.
'Many people were killed or have been severely injured by direct strikes or collateral damage from strikes,' he tweeted. 'In a place as densely populated as Gaza, any strike will have huge damaging effects on people and buildings.'
His original remarks were widely circulated in Israeli media and online, where they were seized upon by Israel's supporters as an endorsement of its conduct and provoked outrage among Palestinians.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.