A young Palestinian man throwing rocks at solders had his skull smashed by a tear gas canister fired by an Israeli soldier Monday, an eyewitness and a medical official said.
The 19-year-old man, Mohammed Abu-Awad, was one of some two dozen young men who were throwing rocks at soldiers at an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank town of Bir Zeit, said his cousin Mahmoud. They had just ended an annual commemoration of the deaths of relatives in a vehicle accident with Israeli troops, the cousin said.
He said soldiers fired two tear gas canisters at them. One hit Abu-Awad in the head.
"His head was all bloodied," said his cousin. Hospital director Dr. Ahmed Betawi said Abu-Awad was in critical condition.
Abu-Awad's tear gas injury comes in a string of similar incidents over the years, raising concerns about the way Israeli forces use the exploding canisters.
Israel's military says it uses the weapons to disperse rioters. A spokesman could not confirm what was used in this incident and said they were looking into the matter.
A senior Israeli military official who spoke last week to The Associated Press said the army advises soldiers to not shoot directly at demonstrators. But he said Palestinians in clashes needed to understand they face the risk of injury.
Rights activists, Palestinians, their supporters and reporters who cover demonstrations say Israeli forces often fire the exploding canisters of acrid smoke directly at demonstrators as weapons _ instead of to disperse protesters.
"Anybody who has seen protests or clashes in the West Bank between the army, border police and Palestinian stone throwers knows this is a common, daily occurrence," said Sarit Michaeli of Israeli rights group B'Tselem.
The area has experienced an increase in violent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces in recent weeks, spurred by persistent rumors that Jewish extremists are plotting to take over the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City. Israel's government charges the rumors are flagrant attempts to stir up trouble.
In the clashes, Palestinian youths have hurled rocks, firecrackers firebombs at Israeli soldiers and paramilitary police, who have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and on some occasions, live fire. In one clash on Feb. 24., soldiers shot and killed a 23-year-old Palestinian Talat Ramia.
Follow Hadid on twitter.com/diaahadid