West Bank funerals turn violent, Gaza tensions mount

NABI SALEH, West Bank Tue Nov 20, 2012 2:15pm EST

Israel soldiers take position during clashes with stone-throwing Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron November 20, 2012. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israel soldiers take position during clashes with stone-throwing Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron November 20, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ammar Awad

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NABI SALEH, West Bank (Reuters) - Two funeral processions for Palestinians killed during clashes with the Israeli army turned violent on Tuesday, underscoring tensions in the occupied West Bank sharply exacerbated by the Gaza conflict.

Palestinian medics said the two men were killed by Israeli gunfire in separate protests earlier this week -- one in the village of Nabi Saleh and the other in the city of Hebron.

Israel's military said its soldiers had shot and injured a man in Hebron on Monday after he approached them holding a fire bomb. It added that it was not aware of any fatalities following a protest in Nabi Saleh but was investigating the incident.

Nabi Saleh residents said Rushdi Tamimi, 31, died after he was shot in the stomach during a demonstration on Saturday against the on-going conflict between Israel and Islamist Palestinian militants in the near-by Gaza Strip.

"Martyr, rest, we will pick up the fight," a crowd of several thousand chanted as they carried the body through the village -- a focal point for weekly protests against the continued Israeli occupation.

"We are happy because he is a martyr, and that was something he wanted. But in the end it's very sad and painful because we will never see him again," said his tearful cousin Nawal Tamimi, her eyes red and puffy.

After the funeral procession, masked youths hurled stones against Israeli soldiers lined up at the entrance to the village, who responded with tear-gas and rubber bullets.

There were similar scenes in Hebron, further to the south, following the funeral of Hamdi al Fallah, 22, who died on Monday during another protest denouncing the Gaza conflict.

Medical officials said he received gunshot wounds to the chest and leg.

The West Bank and Gaza Strip are divided both geographically and politically. Some 40 km (25 miles) apart, Gaza is run by Islamist group Hamas, while the West Bank is governed by the U.S.-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Diplomats and analysts have said Hamas's popularity is likely to rise in the West Bank on the back of its fight against Israel, while Abbas's position has weakened.

Israel said it launched its airstrikes against Gaza to halt repeated rocket attacks from the coastal enclave. More than 120 Palestinians and four Israelis have died in the conflict.

(Additional reporting by Maamun Wazwaz in Hebron; editing by Crispian Balmer)

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