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The general strike was a sign that the war could expand again after a spasm of communal violence in Israel and protests in the occupied West Bank last week.
Although the strike was peaceful in many places and shops were closed in Jerusalem’s normally busy markets in the Old City, violence broke out in cities across the West Bank.
Hundreds of Palestinians burned tires in Ramallah and threw stones at an Israeli military checkpoint. Troops fired tear gas and protesters picked up some of the canisters and threw them back. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, three protesters were killed and more than 140 injured in clashes with Israeli forces in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and other cities. The Israeli army said two soldiers were shot in the leg and injured.
The general strike was an unusual sign of the unity of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20% of the population, and those in the territories that Israel seized in 1967 and that the Palestinians have long sought for a future state.
The strike was intended to protest the war and Israeli policies, which many activists and some right-wing groups claim represent an overarching system of apartheid that denies Jews the rights of the Palestinians. Israel rejects this characterization and says that its citizens have equal rights. She accuses Hamas, the militant Islamic group that controls Gaza, of instigating violence.
Palestinian community leaders in Israel called the strike adopted by the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, where ministries and schools have been closed. Most companies appeared to be watching the strike.
Strike organizer Muhammad Barakeh said the Palestinians oppose Israeli “aggression” in Gaza and Jerusalem, as well as the “brutal repression” by the police.
During the war, Israel also experienced an unusual outbreak of violence, with groups of Jewish and Palestinian citizens fighting in the streets and setting vehicles and buildings on fire. Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli forces in both Israel and the West Bank. Numerous people were injured, including a Jewish man who died Monday after being attacked by a group of Arabs in downtown Lod last week.
The fighting began on May 10 when Hamas fired long-range missiles at Jerusalem to support Palestinian protests against Israel’s persistent policing on the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a sacred hotspot for Jews and Muslims, and the threatened displacement of dozens of Palestinians Families of Jewish settlers.
At least 217 Palestinians were killed in air strikes, including 63 children, and more than 1,500 were injured, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, which does not split the numbers into militants and civilians. Hamas and Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is at least 130.
Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, were killed in rocket attacks.
Tuesday’s rocket attack from Gaza hit a packaging facility in an area bordering the territory, killing two Thai workers. Israeli ambulance service Magen David Adom said he had taken seven more to the hospital. Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said the wounded were also Thai.
The Israeli military said missiles had also been fired at the Erez pedestrian crossing and the Kerem-Shalom crossing, where humanitarian aid was being brought into Gaza, forcing both to close. It was said that a soldier was slightly wounded in Erez.
Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip destroyed a six-story building that housed bookstores and educational centers used by the Islamic University and other colleges. Desks, office chairs, books, and wires could be seen in the rubble. Israel warned its residents beforehand and sent them to flee before dawn. There were no reports of victims.
The Israeli military has launched hundreds of air strikes on Hamas’ militant infrastructure, while Palestinian militants have fired more than 3,400 rockets from civilian areas in the Gaza Strip at civilian targets in Israel.
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the military is focused on destroying the tunnels where Hamas fighters hide, move between locations and supply rockets with rockets to fire on Israel.
The tunnels run under civilian neighborhoods and Israeli air strikes have attempted to target streets above them to minimize damage to buildings, Conricus said. A weekend air strike that Israel said targeted a tunnel resulted in the collapse of several buildings and killed 42 people in the conflict’s deadliest single attack.