July 7, 2008 - 4:30pm

Shots sounded from a Palestinian town on Sunday as local people marched in defiance of a daylight curfew imposed by Israeli troops who have sealed off Ni’lin, in the occupied West Bank, since Friday.

One resident said up to 50 people were hurt by tear gas and rubber bullets. The Israeli army said a soldier was wounded and declined to comment on any casualties among civilians on a third day of clashes and a clampdown that has kept journalists out.

Troops again stopped reporters trying to enter the town of 5,000, which has been a focus for protests against the walls and fences Israel is building through the West Bank in what it says is a defensive measure.

A Reuters correspondent on a hill overlooking Ni’lin saw at least a dozen people walking and shouting through the village.

He also heard several shots. Local people said by telephone they had been prevented from leaving the town since Friday.

An Israeli army spokesman said the indefinite daylight curfew was imposed on townspeople on Sunday, forcing them to stay indoors around the clock, "in light of recent violent incidents". He said eight Israeli security personnel and two workers building the barrier were hurt in protests over the past month.

The West Bank barrier, a network of razor-wire fences and concrete barricades, is intended to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers, Israel says. But it also loops around Jewish settlement blocs, cutting off West Bank villages from swathes of farmland.

Four years ago this week, the World Court in the Hague ruled building the 720km barrier on occupied land was illegal. The United Nations says Israel has ignored that ruling.

‘Collective punishment’

Hindi Mesleh, a resident of Ni’lin who spoke to reporters outside the town, said he had managed to evade the cordon and leave. He called the curfew "collective punishment" and said food and medical supplies were being kept out of the town.

Another resident contacted by telephone inside the town, Mohammad Khawaja, said he had seen some 100 soldiers stopping villagers from leaving their homes. He said about 50 people were wounded by tear gas and rubber bullets during Sunday's clashes.

Construction sites have been flashpoints for confrontations between Israeli security forces and local Palestinians, who are often supported by protesters from Israel and abroad.

Ni’lin residents said that during a march against the barrier on Friday around 20 protesters were hurt by rubber bullets fired by Israeli forces. Four people from an Israeli group opposed to the barrier were arrested, one demonstration organiser said.

Casualties and other patients were prevented from leaving the village for treatment, Salah Khawaja, spokesman for the Ni’lin Committee for Resisting the Wall, said on Saturday - an accusation the army has denied.

The army said on Saturday that security forces were attacked by hundreds of Palestinians who pelted them with rocks and rolled burning tyres at them, injuring a border policeman.

Another demonstration was held on Saturday in defiance of the closure, with Nilin youths blockading roads used by bulldozers to access the construction site, residents said.

Israeli security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas, injuring at least seven people, residents said. Security forces were "using means of riot dispersal" after two policemen were hit by stones, the army said on Saturday.


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