Clashes, general strike in north Israel after shooting

Clashes and demonstrations took place across Israel Sunday as police raised alert levels nationwide amid a wave of anger over the deadly shooting of a young Arab-Israeli.

Jerusalem: Clashes and demonstrations took place across Israel Sunday as police raised alert levels nationwide amid a wave of anger over the deadly shooting of a young Arab-Israeli.

With shops, schools and business shuttered as Arab towns and villages observed a general strike, police raised the alert to one below the highest level and deployed in areas of friction, spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

The protests began early Saturday after police shot dead a 22-year-old in Kfar Kana near the northern city of Nazareth.

Kheir Hamdan was killed after he attacked police with a knife as they tried to arrest a relative.

Police say warning shots were fired first before the officers felt their lives were threatened and aimed directly at him.

Relatives say Hamdan was killed "in cold blood", with CCTV footage apparently contradicting the official version.

In the footage, a man in a white T-shirt is seen banging on a police van window with a knife for about 10 seconds before starting to run off as a man gets out of the back door.

The man fires his gun as he walks towards Hamdan, and officers drag his body into the vehicle.

The shooting brought angry crowds onto Kfar Kana`s streets where around 2,500 people demonstrated as youths threw stones and burned tyres.It came as Israel struggled to cope with a wave of unrest which has gripped annexed east Jerusalem for more than four months, with police facing off against youths almost nightly.

In Kfar Kana, up to 40 masked youths stoned police and set rubbish bins alight, Samri said.

Twenty people were arrested, among them minors, she added.

Student groups were also staging protests in Jerusalem, the northern port city of Haifa and in Beersheva in the southern Negev desert, with a major demonstration expected at the northern town of Umm al-Fahm at 1400 GMT.

In strife-torn east Jerusalem, clashes raged in Shuafat refugee camp for a fifth straight day as masked youths held running battles with Israeli border police, an AFP correspondent said.

Shuafat has been the focal point of unrest since Wednesday when one of its Palestinian residents deliberately ran over two groups of pedestrians, killing a border police officer and a teenager and injuring eight other people.

Saturday`s shooting and the outpouring of Arab anger dominated Israel`s main newspapers.

"They killed him in cold blood because he was an Arab," Hamdan`s father Rauf told Maariv, his words reflecting a widely held belief that police are quicker on the draw when an Arab is involved. "If he had been a Jew, it wouldn`t have ended that way. They wouldn`t have shot him and if they had, they would have shot him in the leg and he wouldn`t be dead," Hamdan said.

Adalah, an NGO which fights for the rights of Israel`s Arab minority, called the shooting "an execution," dismissing the police`s version about warning shots.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that anyone breaking the law would be "punished severely".

"We will not tolerate disturbances and riots. We will take determined action against those who throw stones, firebombs and fireworks, and block roads, and against demonstrations that call for our destruction," he told the weekly cabinet meeting.

He said he had instructed Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch to examine the possibility of "revoking the citizenship" of anyone calling for Israel`s destruction, in a threat clearly aimed at the Arab minority of around 1.4 million -- some 20 percent of the population.

But several Arab and leftwing parliamentarians blamed the bloodshed on Aharonovitch who said last week that any "terrorist" who harms civilians "should be killed".

"This sweeping statement by the minister could be interpreted as taking off the gloves to allow the use of deadly force for reasons that are not justified and against the law," Israeli rights group ACRI warned in a letter to the attorney general.

It said the CCTV footage raised "grave suspicions" that police had violated protocol stating that deadly force should be used only as a last resort.  

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