Attacks continue, Israel bars ministers from holy site
Jerusalem — A Palestinian stabbed four Israelis with a screwdriver on Thursday before a soldier shot and killed him amid fresh violence that prompted Israel’s premier to bar Cabinet ministers and lawmakers from a sensitive Jerusalem holy site at the heart of the latest tensions.
The attack in Tel Aviv was among four new stabbings on Thursday that left several people wounded. A series of similar attacks in recent days, carried out mainly by young people with no known links to armed groups, has shocked Israelis and raised fears of a new uprising.
The screwdriver-wielding assailant, a Palestinian from east Jerusalem, stabbed and wounded four Israelis, including a female soldier, near a busy Tel Aviv road before being shot dead, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
After attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank left two Israelis seriously wounded Thursday, the violence spread deeper into Israel when police said an Arab attacker stabbed and moderately wounded an Israeli soldier in the northern city of Afula.
Palestinian protesters meanwhile clashed with Israeli forces in a number of locations in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, where a 20-year-old protester was killed by live fire, according to a Palestinian hospital official and witnesses.
Four Israelis have been killed in attacks over the past week. Seven Palestinians, including four alleged attackers, have been killed in the unrest. More than 130 Palestinians have been wounded in demonstrations and clashes across the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s move to ban lawmakers from the holy site appeared to put him on a collision course with hard-liners within his own governing coalition, who have been pressing for a harsh crackdown and settlement expansion in the West Bank.
But Netanyahu likely fears that a tougher response could anger the U.S. administration and lead to increased casualties on both sides, risking the outbreak of a full-fledged uprising like those in the 1980s and 2000s.
The Jerusalem hilltop compound lies at the heart of recent tensions. It’s revered by Muslims as the spot where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and by Jews as the site of the two Jewish biblical Temples.
Many Palestinians believe Israel is trying to expand the Jewish presence at the site, a claim Israel adamantly denies. Under a longstanding arrangement administered by Islamic authorities, Jews are allowed to visit the site during certain hours but not pray there.
The latest Israeli-Palestinian unrest began about three weeks ago as Palestinians repeatedly barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa mosque, located at the sacred site, and hurled stones, firebombs and fireworks at the police.
The violence later spread to Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and to the West Bank, and on Tuesday there were disturbances in Jaffa, a largely Arab area of Tel Aviv.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he would not allow his people to be “dragged” into more violence with Israel. Speaking to business leaders in the West Bank city of Ramallah, he said he was committed to “peaceful popular resistance,” though he backs the protesters who have clashed with Israeli police at Al-Aqsa.
He insisted the Palestinians are not interested in a further escalation but that his “hands are with those who are protecting Al-Aqsa mosque.”
The attacks were initially confined to east Jerusalem and the West Bank, territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war and claimed by the Palestinians for their future state.
But on Wednesday, new stabbings occurred outside a crowded mall in central Israel and in a southern Israeli town. With the attacks spilling into the Israeli heartland, Netanyahu has warned Israelis to be on guard.
Israel has beefed up security in response to the violence in Jerusalem, and on Thursday police set up metal detectors at the entrance to Israel’s Old City.
An Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations, said Netanyahu ordered the ban on officials visiting the holy site because he was concerned it could spark further violence.
In 2000, then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount — known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — a provocative move widely seen as having helped ignite the second Palestinian intifada.
In a statement from Geneva on Thursday, the U.N. human rights chief appealed for calm, warning that “more bloodshed will only lead to more hatred on both sides.”
Zeid Raad al-Hussein said he was “deeply concerned at the increasing number of reported attacks” by both Israeli settlers and Palestinians. “The high number of casualties, in particular those resulting from the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces, raise concerns of excessive use of force,” he said.
Dozens of Palestinian protesters threw stones at Israeli troops near the West Bank city of Ramallah and elsewhere on Thursday. Israeli forces responded with tear gas and stun grenades.
In another sign of tensions, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat — a former military officer and licensed gun owner — defended his decision to carry a weapon during a visit this week to an Arab neighborhood. On Thursday, he encouraged other licensed gun owners to also carry their weapons.
“One of the advantages Israel has is that there are many veterans of military units with operational combat experience,” he said. “Having a weapon increases the resident’s confidence.”