Dozens of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have been wounded in confrontations with Israeli soldiers while protesting in solidarity with six Palestinian men who managed to escape a high-security Israeli prison earlier this week.
Relatives of Palestinian prisoners have been arrested as Israel launched a massive manhunt to capture the six men who tunnelled out of the Gilboa jail on Monday.
Israeli forces fired tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, and live ammunition at crowds who were taking part in rallies on Wednesday evening across various cities in the West Bank, wounding at least 100 people, the Palestine Red Crescent said.
Hundreds demonstrated in Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Hebron – as well as surrounding towns and villages – in support of the six escapees and Palestinian detainees who have been subjected to punitive measures in Israeli prison facilities after the escape, according to the Palestinian Prisoner Society.
The men – five of whom are members of the Islamic Jihad, and one of the Fatah group – were either serving multiple life sentences or were being held without charge, which is illegal under international law.
At the rallies, people chanted “freedom” while waving Palestinian flags.
“We came out in solidarity with our prisoners in the occupier’s jails,” said Jihad Abu Adi, 25, as protesters nearby set tyres ablaze. “It’s the least we could do for our heroic prisoners.”
According to the Palestine Red Crescent, three other Palestinians were injured in occupied East Jerusalem as well, after Israeli forces fired rubber-coated bullets and sound bombs at a sit-in near Damascus Gate.
The protests come as Israel has brought reinforcements into the occupied West Bank. The Israeli army said in a statement that in order to try to find the men “it has been decided to extend the general closure” of the occupied West Bank.
It said the closure will last until midnight on Friday “subject to a situational assessment”.
Israel has also deployed drones, road checkpoints and an army mission to Jenin, the flashpoint West Bank home town of many of the men who were imprisoned for their roles in the second Palestinian Intifada in the early 2000s.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held consultations with defence and security chiefs on Wednesday, his spokesman said in a statement.
“The events have the potential to impact numerous fronts,” the statement said. “Israel is prepared for any scenario.”