Palestinians protest US settlement decision in ‘day of rage’

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated across the West Bank on Tuesday to protest the recent U.S. announcement that it no longer believes Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate international law. The so-called “day of rage” was expected to culminate in confrontations with Israeli security forces.

The protests came hours after the death of a Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody following a battle with cancer. Organizers had also called for the demonstrations — planned for before his death — to serve as a show of force calling for his release.

Around two thousand people were gathered in the West Bank city of Ramallah by midday, where they had set ablaze posters of U.S. President Donald Trump as well as Israeli and American flags. Schools, universities and government offices were shuttered and rallies were being held in city centers around the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The marches were expected to then move to Israeli checkpoints.

“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.

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.”

Organized by Fatah, the demonstrations were protesting the Trump administration’s announcement on Israeli settlements last week. The 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 last week, while the Palestinians and most of the world say the settlements 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 had announced that the U.S. was repudiating the 1978 State Department legal opinion that said civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.”

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.”

The Palestinian prisoner, Sami Abu Diak, 35, 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.

Abu Diak was linked to the armed wing of the Palestinian Fatah faction 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 and Abu Diak’s family had asked for his release to allow him to die at his family’s side, but Israeli officials denied the request. The Palestinians also 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 by Israeli authorities.

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This story corrects the charges attributed to Abu Diak.

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