Israel demands Palestinian leaders reduce tensions

Israel said on Sunday it sent "an unequivocal demand" to Palestinian leaders to quell unrest, as thousands of detainees staged hunger strikes in Israeli prisons and their supporters clashed with security forces in the occupied West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the same time ordered the transfer of January arrears of tax revenues that Israel collects on the behalf of the Palestinians but has been withholding, the government said in a statement.

"Israel passed an unequivocal demand to the Palestinian Authority to calm down the territory," the statement said.

"In order that the non-payment of taxes that Israel collects for the Palestinians should not serve as an excuse for the Palestinian Authority not to calm the territory, Netanyahu instructed the money for January to be transferred," it added.

Protests in the West Bank have been mounting, both in support of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel -- 11 of whom are on open-ended hunger strike -- and against settlement expansion.

An official said almost all Palestinians in Israeli prisons were on a one-day hunger strike Sunday in protest at the sudden death of an inmate due to what prison authorities said appeared to have been cardiac arrest.

"It's 4,500, nearly everyone in fact," Israel Prisons Service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman told AFP.

Arafat Jaradat, a 30-year-old father of two, from Sair near Hebron in the southern West Bank, died on Saturday in an Israeli jail from what prison authorities said appeared to have been cardiac arrest.

Protesters in his village and around Hebron city on Sunday stoned Israeli security forces who responded with tear gas and stun grenades, Palestinian witnesses said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

"In Hebron there are 100 Palestinians hurling rocks and rolling burning tyres at security forces," an Israeli army spokeswoman told AFP, adding that a smaller group clashed with Israeli forces in the Halhul area, on the city's outskirts.

She said the army responded with "riot disposal means," without elaborating.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip marched in solidarity.

Israeli media link the increased unrest and Israel's concerns about possible escalation to next month's visit by US President Barack Obama to the Jewish state and to the Palestinians.

"The political establishment is counting on the Palestinian Authority not to allow things to boil over on the ground, at least not until after ... Obama's visit to Israel is over," the Yediot Aharonot newspaper said on Sunday.

"Officials in Jerusalem will begin to look for all kinds of ways to appease the Palestinians and to cool tempers on the ground," it said.

Last month Israel released $100 million of the tariffs and tax monies it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, which were frozen last year as punishment for their successful bid for upgraded UN membership, a move the Jewish state had fiercely opposed.

Jaradat's autopsy was due to take place at Israel's national forensic institute on Sunday and Issa Qaraqaa, the Palestinian minister in charge of prisoner affairs, said a Palestinian doctor and Jaradat family members would attend.

Israel's Shin Bet domestic intelligence service said Jaradat had been arrested on Monday for his involvement in a stonethrowing incident in November 2012 during which an Israeli had been injured.

Palestinians said that he was a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement.

B'Tselem called for an investigation into how how he was treated during interrogation and what techniques had been used.

Relations between Israel and the Palestinians had already tense because of a rising wave of protests in solidarity with four prisoners detained by Israel who have been on hunger strike for some months.

The Ramallah-based Prisoners' Club announced Saturday that another seven prisoners had joined them.

IPS spokeswoman Weizman said on Sunday that three hunger strikers -- Tareq Qaadan, Jafar Ezzedine and Ayman Sharawrna -- who were taken to hospitals for protective check-ups on Friday were on Sunday still in the medical institutions being monitored.