JERUSALEM — On a day of some of the worst violence in the current flare-up of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Secretary of State John Kerry proposed a temporary ceasefire that could halt fighting this weekend.
But even if the Israeli government and Hamas, the Islamist faction that rules Gaza, accept his plan, it remains unclear whether a break in combat will be enough to quell the protests that have broken out in Jerusalem and in the West Bank in the past 24 hours. Palestinian sources claimed that both Israeli military and settler fire killed five protestors on Friday.
The diplomatic moves come on the heels of one of the bloodiest and most controversial incidents of the conflict, in which a UN-run school that was operating as a shelter for displaced Gazans was shelled on Thursday, killing an estimated 17 people. The spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which runs the school, accused Israel of the shelling, while Israeli army representatives, emphasizing that the incident is under investigation, have suggested the school could have instead been hit by Hamas’s rockets.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the school incident "underscores the need to end the violence and to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and enduring resolution of the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible."
Speaking to GlobalPost, Israeli army spokesman Capt. Eytan Buchman said, "It is a tragic loss of life. Any case where civilians are killed is a tragedy. Civilian casualties is something that the IDF are trying to avoid at every possible junction."
"We are very carefully reviewing this particular incident," he continued. "During the course of the afternoon there was ongoing fire with terrorist operatives in Gaza that included RPG [rocket-propelled grenades], anti-tank missiles and light fire we have definitive indications that there were rocket launches from Gaza that landed in the vicinity of the school at that time.'"
As night fell on Thursday, crowds of Palestinians gathered in the West Bank, spurred in part by the carnage at the school.
Palestinian sources claimed that three protesters were killed in clashes with Israeli authorities on Thursday night. The Israeli army confirmed two dead.
IDF spokesman Col. Peter Lerner said that one of those killed at the Qalandia checkpoint was "hit by live fire after soldiers were fired upon from behind the rioters." He characterized the bullets coming from the crowd as "an imminent threat."
Violence in the West Bank appeared to be escalating Friday as the US pushed for a ceasefire. Sources in Nablus, near the largest of Friday's disturbances, told GobalPost that one of those dead in the clashes was killed by a shot fired by a Jewish settler, and not by military police.
Israel Border Police spokesman Shai Hakimian said that one of the casualties at Hawara junction, near Nablus, was the result of an 18-year-old suspect shooting fireworks at soldiers from a short distance, to which the soldiers responded with live fire.
As demonstrations continued into the early evening Friday, Israel Army Radio reported two instances of settler shooting. In one, a settler driving his car was pelted by rocks thrown by protesters and responded by shooting in what he claimed was "self-defense." In a separate event reported widely, a female settler was seen shooting into the air.
Kerry's two-stage proposal includes a weeklong truce starting Sunday. It would be immediately followed by negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli leaders, with the participation of other national representatives, and would address long-term political, military, and economic problems in Gaza.
As the Israeli cabinet met to vote on Kerry's plan, four right-wing cabinet members, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, announced they would vote against it.
Hamas has not yet made its intentions known.