GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Protests against Israel's deadly bombing of Gaza erupted across the West Bank on Saturday, and in two cities, club-wielding Palestinian police tried to block crowds from throwing stones at Israeli troops.
In Bethlehem, Jesus' traditional birthplace, municipal officials switched off Christmas lights in protest.
More than 200 Palestinians were killed in unprecedented Israeli air attacks on Hamas security compounds across Gaza on Saturday, in retaliation for continued rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli towns.
Moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the West Bank, called for restraint. However, he is also engaged a bitter power struggle with Hamas which wrested control of Gaza from him last year. Since then, Abbas' security forces have cracked down hard on Hamas activists in the West Bank.
In sending forces to block anti-Israel protests Saturday, Abbas' government signaled that it is determined to prevent the unrest from spreading. Abbas coordinates some security with Israel and has held peace talks with Israel for the past year.
Abbas aide Nimer Hamad suggested that Hamas carries some of the blame for Saturday's violence because of continued rocket fire from Gaza. "We think that launching rockets is useless. No excuse should be given to (Israel) to attack," Hamad said, while calling on Israel to halt its strikes.
Abbas had left the West Bank for a Mideast tour earlier Saturday, before the air strikes began.
In the West Bank town of Ramallah, just a few hundred meters from Abbas' home, club-wielding Palestinian policemen in white helmets formed a cordon to keep back about 200 Palestinians throwing rocks at an Israeli checkpoint. Palestinian firefighters doused burning tires.
Nearby, Israeli soldiers stood behind their jeeps, clutching guns.
In the southern West Bank city of Hebron, dozens of youths hurled stones at Israeli soldiers, who lobbed back sound bombs and tear gas grenades in response. At one point, Palestinian security forces tried to step in, but to no avail.
Bethlehem, the scene of Christmas celebrations this week, went dark Saturday. "In solidarity with Gaza, we turned off the lights," said Mayor Victor Batarseh. The colorful Christmas lights usually remain lit until mid-January.
From mosque minarets in the northern West Bank town of Jenin, Palestinians called for strikes and more demonstrations.
On Ramallah's main streets, angry residents raised the Palestinian flag as they marched through town, shouting, "We will defend you, Gaza!"