Taunted by Jewish settlers cursing the Prophet Mohammed, Palestinian rioters threw rocks and firebombs Saturday at Israeli soldiers guarding Jewish neighborhoods.
Tensions flared a week ago in Hebron after a Jewish militant hung posters portraying the prophet of Islam as a pig, which enraged Palestinians and prompted calls for Israel’s destruction throughout the Muslim world.
On Saturday, about a dozen settlers shouted “Mohammed is the son of a whore” and “Mohammed is a pig” at Palestinians who gathered to confront troops guarding the settler enclaves in the Israeli-controlled downtown area. Other settlers succeeded in silencing them.
The soldiers fired rubber bullets at the dozens of Palestinians, who chanted “God is great” and “The army of Mohammed is returning.” They flung three firebombs at soldiers, causing no injury.
A Palestinian woman passing by was slightly injured by a stone thrown by one of the settlers from a rooftop, and a rioter was injured by a rubber bullet. Israeli police cleared the settlers off the rooftop.
There have been sporadic riots in the West Bank for three months, since Israel began building a new Jewish neighborhood in disputed east Jerusalem, causing a break in peace talks.
The clashes became more violent after the poster of Mohammed as a pig appeared.
On Friday, at least 29 Palestinians were injured, including one in critical condition after being shot in the head by a rubber bullet, and a pipe bomb wounded an Israeli soldier.
The Israeli army commander in the West Bank, Maj. Gen. Gabi Ofir, warned Friday that anyone throwing a bomb at the troops with intent to kill would be shot to death.
Palestinian security chief Col. Jibril Rajoub rejected the warning Saturday. “Threats of death do not achieve political aims,” Rajoub told Israel’s Army Radio.
The Palestinian police, who had made halfhearted efforts to control earlier riots in areas under Palestinian control, did not show up at all in Hebron during the past week.
Israel is prosecuting the woman who distributed the leaflets. Tatiana Susskin is an unemployed art school dropout and member of the outlawed anti-Arab Kach group.
Israel’s president, prime minister and chief rabbi all condemned the caricature.
The Palestinian Cabinet accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday of freezing the peace process and called for an international conference and an Arab summit to revive it. If the deadlock continues, it said in a statement, “it could trigger an explosion throughout the entire region.”
But Israeli Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh said Israel is negotiating with the Palestinians on a package deal that will enable them to resume talks.
He said the main obstacle was the violence in Hebron. “We have sent them a very clear message that with the violence there just won’t be a solution,” he told Israel TV.
Netanyahu telephoned U.S. President Bill Clinton on Friday and briefed him on the violence in Hebron.
In the northern Israeli town of Nazareth, meanwhile, thousands of Israeli Arabs demonstrated against the Mohammed caricature. The rally was mostly peaceful, but three people were arrested for throwing stones, Israel Radio reported.