Hundreds of Israeli Arabs took part in mass demonstrations across Israel on Monday, to protest against the Israel Navy's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid convoy earlier in the day.

Angry Palestinians were hurling rocks at police forces positioned near the Old City gates. A handful of protesters were arrested in the northern town of Umm al-Fahm as the demonstrations turned violent.

Protests were also held over the course of the afternoon in the Israeli Arab cities of Acre, Sakhnin, Arabe and Shfaram. There was no word of violence or disruption in those areas.

A spontaneous demonstration erupted in Nazareth as Israel's law enforcement authorities prepared to face an anticipated wave of violence after Israel shot dead at least 10 pro-Palestinian activists aboard a Gaza-bound aid convoy.

The protest in the Arab-populated town in northern Israel was the first mass response to news in the early hours of the morning that Israeli commandos had fired on flotilla passengers as they approached a maritime exclusion zone imposed by Israel off Gaza.

Reports in the Arabic-language press on Monday that Raed Salah, head of the northern branch of the Israeli-Arab Islamic Movement, had been seriously wounded sparked widespread anger among the country's Arab minority - some 20 per cent of the population.

IDF officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Haaretz that Salah was alive - but offered no other details on his condition.

Salah's deputy, Kamel Khatib, said in a radio interview that there was still no clear indication of Salah's state. Khatib said that if emerged Salah had been killed, Israel would be directly responsible.

Local authorities in Arab-populated areas in Israel on Monday declared a general strike for the following day.

Israeli-Arab leaders condemned Israel's handling of the interception.
Knesset member Mohammed Barakeh offered sardonic praise for the government, congratulating Defense Minister Ehud Barak on his "decisive victory of the army of pirates over the flotilla of civil liberty".

Barakeh added: "Any government that puts itself outside international and humanitarian law will consign itself to the garbage can of history.

MK Taleb al-Sana said the operation had "exposed the ugly face of Zionism, the violence and aggression of the government of Israel". Sana described the interception as an act of state terror against a humanitarian mission and called for Israel's leaders to be tried for war crimes.

"This event proves you don't have to be a German to be a Nazi," he said.

By lunchtime, police were preparing for disturbances in Arab-majority districts in the north of the country, as well as around the Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the harbor at Ashdod and hospitals across the country where casualties are being treated.

"At this moment we have to act with restraint and complete control, so as not to inflame the situation needlessly,' said police commander David Cohen.

The internal security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, also held emergency planning meetings with police, saying that while he hope to maintain calm, law enforcement agencies were prepared for any eventually.

The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, which represents Israel Arab minority, called on Israeli forces to stay out of Arab areas so as not to provoke violence.

"The government of Israel and the police carry responsibility for the safety of Arab citizens that will demand the right to protest against the police of the government and defense ministry that was carrying a message of peace to Gaza."

Hezbollah demands 'international punishment' over Gaza flotilla deaths'

The Hezbollah guerrilla group on Monday said Israel's action against Gaza-bound aid ships in which at least 10 people were killed, was a "terrorist act that deserves international punishment".

Israeli commandos stormed the ships before dawn and at least 10 pro-Palestinian activists on board were killed, unleashing fierce criticism from Israel's friends and enemies.

Israel put its forces on high alert on its borders with Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip, as well as around Jerusalem and the West Bank, following the incident.

"Israel's kidnapping of civilian hostages from international waters and their arrest constitutes a barbaric aggression and Israel bears complete responsibility if anything happens to them," Hezbollah lawmaker Hassan Fadlallah told Reuters.

"Any delay by the Security Council in moving quickly against this Israeli crime constitutes a cover-up. This never would have happened without international and U.S. silence over the Gaza blockade and the crimes that Israel commits against civilians."

Hundreds of people protested against Israel in Beirut and Palestinian refugee camps across the country also witnessed several demonstrations during which protesters chanted anti-Israeli slogans and raised Palestinian flags.

"We hope they come back safely. My father is on the ship and he is injured but our blood is not more precious than the blood of all martyred Palestinians," said Adham Suleiman, the son of Lebanese activist Hani Suleiman, in Beirut.