HEBRON, West Bank - Palestinian police loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas fired automatic weapons and beat marchers with clubs during a funeral procession yesterday for a man killed while protesting this week's US-hosted Mideast peace conference.
The chaos threatened to undermine Abbas's standing in the West Bank, just as the international community stepped up its support for him in peace talks with Israel and his struggle with Hamas militants.
Led by the Islamic militant Hamas, Palestinian hard-liners have been demonstrating all week, rejecting concessions to Israel and declaring that Abbas does not speak for them.
Medics said at least 26 people were wounded, one critically, in yesterday's West Bank violence, the second day of protests against the conference in Annapolis, Md., where Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert formally agreed to relaunch peace talks.
Olmert is also facing a challenge from Jewish settlers in the West Bank and their hard-line backers, who reject compromise with the Palestinians and are threatening to bring Olmert's coalition down.
In Gaza, Palestinian officials said an Israeli air strike on a Hamas base killed two militants. The Israeli military said the strike was a response to rocket and mortar fire from Gaza at Israel.
In Hebron, about 5,000 people participated in yesterday's funeral for Hisham Baradei, 36, who was shot and killed by Palestinian police on Tuesday. The procession turned violent when marchers refused to keep to a route agreed in advance with police, who then opened fire over their heads. Protesters hurled rocks at police, who clubbed demonstrators.
Abbas's government announced a ban on public demonstrations ahead of the Annapolis summit to keep Hamas under control. Abbas leads an emergency government based in the West Bank, formed after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.
The Liberation Party, a small, unarmed Islamic group, organized Tuesday's protests. But Hamas activists joined the funeral procession yesterday in Hebron, waving their green Islamic flags and hurling stones at police.