RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians during a stone-throwing protest on Thursday to mark the “Nakba”, or “catastrophe”, as Palestinians term their displacement when Israel was founded.
Hospital officials said Muhammad Abu Thahr, 22, and Nadim Nuwara, 17, were both shot in the heart outside Israel’s Ofer Prison near the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli military said security forces had tried to break up a riot of about 150 Palestinians using “riot dispersal means and rubber bullets”.
“Reports regarding Palestinian casualties are currently being reviewed,” it said in a statement.
Wasel Abu Youssef, a senior Palestinian official, told Reuters: “The use of live bullets on protesters is a dangerous escalation by (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s extremist government, which aims to drag the region into a new cycle of violence.”
Ofer prison has been a focal point of Palestinian anger over Israel’s detention and occupation policies.
Around two hundred demonstrators waved flags and threw stones there, marking the 66th anniversary of the “Nakba”, when many Palestinians fled or were expelled from their home towns and villages during the war of Israel’s foundation in 1948.
Netanyahu said earlier the Palestinian commemoration was part of “endless propaganda” against Israel. The country would continue to build itself and its “united capital Jerusalem”, and push ahead with a new law declaring Israel a Jewish state.
Protests and violence in the West Bank have declined in recent months. U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stumbled and finally collapsed in April.
In the most recent deadly incident, three Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces during a raid into the West Bank city of Jenin on March 22.
Palestinians seek an independent state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in a 1967 war.
Reporting by Mohammad Torokman and Ali Sawafta; Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by Jeffrey Heller; and Andrew Roche