(MENAFN - The Journal Of Turkish Weekly) Wherever people gather in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Hebron (Al-Khalil) -- outside shops at cafes or in the local mosque -- the topic of conversation is always the same: the latest young Palestinian to have been shot dead by Israeli troops.
With the city on edge after nine young Palestinians were killed by soldiers over the past week alone most of these conversations are held while intermittent explosions and gunfire can be heard in the background.
The tension is palpable around Hebron's Old City especially on Shuhada (Martyrs’) Street -- a historical flashpoint between Palestinians and hardline Jewish settlers -- which the Israeli forces have designated a militarized zone.
"Neither I nor my children can walk the streets of the Old City” shopkeeper Hamzeh al-Natsheh 33 told Anadolu Agency. “We stay at home because of the serious situation.”
The worst of the daily clashes have been in the Old City he said adding that there had also been confrontations at a checkpoint outside the Ibrahimi Mosque which is divided between Muslim and Jewish worshipers the latter of whom call it the “Cave of the Patriarchs”.
“Most of the time we’re not allowed to pray at the Ibrahimi Mosque” said al-Natsheh. “And when they do allow us we’re subjected to humiliating searches.”
Less than half a kilometer from al-Natsheh’s shop a barrier of concrete blocks marks the frontline where Palestinian youths armed with stones frequently face-off against heavily-armed Israeli soldiers and settlers.
Behind this along Shuhada Street groups of Israeli soldiers in full combat gear can be seen on patrol; others stand on rooftops surveying the streets below.
The Old City had already been known as a “ghost town” due to the hundreds of shuttered storefronts along its alleyways which were forcibly closed during the Second Intifada (2000-2005).
Now however even fewer remain open while the area's traditional street market has moved to another part of the city.
“It’s even emptier; like a curfew has been imposed. People aren’t passing the checkpoint” Issa Amro a prominent Hebron-based activist told Anadolu Agency.
“People fear for their lives because of rumours that they [the Israelis] will shoot anyone” he added.
Amro whose group -- “Youth against Settlements” -- has been involved in almost daily anti-occupation protests says thousands of Palestinian students have recently joined their demonstrations especially after local universities decided to close their doors.
Widespread violence in October -- in which at least 72 Palestinians and 10 Israelis were killed -- had initially focused on disputes over Palestinian access to East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
But a recent decline in violence in Jerusalem has since been replaced with increased tension in Hebron.
According to Amro the situation has been aggravated by recent shoot-to-kill orders issued by the Israeli government. He and other members of his group say Israeli soldiers now frequently use force to disperse peaceful protests.
“The presence of the [Jewish] settlers and [Israeli] soldiers is affecting normal life in Hebron” Amro said lamenting the many checkpoints and roadblocks that had been set up around the city.
“They [settlers] celebrate in the streets after the killing of a Palestinian” he added. “They celebrate the killing backed up by Israeli soldiers.”
“For them the killing of Palestinians is justifiable” Amro said.
Along one of Hebron's major thoroughfares flags of Fatah -- the movement that leads the Palestinian Liberation Organization -- serve as another reminder of recent Palestinian deaths.
Yellow flags mark the place where 19-year-old Izzadeen Shaban al-Husseini -- whose image graces a banner alongside that of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat -- was killed.
“They shot him [al-Husseini] in the head and all over his body while he was on his way to work” said Izzadeen's father Nadi Al-Husseini in the hall where mourners have gathered throughout the day frequently spilling over into the street outside.
“They accused him of stabbing an Israeli but we didn’t see any body or hear about any injury to any Israeli” he added.
“Three months ago the situation was very good everyone was going out normally. But after the Al-Aqsa raids [by hardline Jewish groups] they are [also] Judaizing [the] Ibrahimi Mosque” Nadi said.
Nadi himself a former member of Fatah's military wing during the second intifada said Palestinian youth feel compelled to protest because of the lack of investigations into killings increasing settler attacks on Palestinians and fear that Israel wants to seize full control of religious sites like the Al-Aqsa and Ibrahimi mosques.
"Young Palestinian[s] nowadays are not afraid of anything" he said. "They only want to defend their land."
By Kaamil Ahmed