JERUSALEM: Jerusalem was shaken by its first stabbing in two weeks yesterday as violence intensified in the occupied West Bank with fresh clashes and knife attacks in a surge of Palestinian unrest. A Palestinian stabbed and lightly wounded an American tourist in Jerusalem, where the wave of violence first erupted a month ago over the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a highly sensitive site sacred to both Muslims and Jews. The 23-year-old Palestinian assailant was shot dead, while a bystander was injured when security forces opened fire on the assailant, police said.
Jerusalem had been calm in recent days as Israel clamped down on weeks of unrest with a massive boost of security forces and increased checkpoints, but violence has shifted to the occupied West Bank with daily clashes and stabbings. Many fear the surge of unrest heralds a new intifada, or uprising, against Israel by a generation gripped by despair and anger over decades of occupation and stalled peace efforts.
In the city of Nablus, two Palestinians allegedly tried to stab members of Israeli forces guarding a major checkpoint, and were shot, police said. One died and the other was wounded and arrested. Elsewhere in the West Bank, in the volatile city of Hebron, hundreds of youths lobbed stones, firebombs and burning tyres at Israeli soldiers who hit back with tear gas and rubber bullets, according to an AFP journalist.
Violent clashes also erupted in Ramallah where an AFP journalist reported an Israeli army jeep hit a crowd of protesters, injuring a young man. Soldiers sprayed tear gas at medics attempting to reach him, before arresting the youth. The Palestinian health ministry reported eight youths were wounded by gunfire, and another was hit with a rubber bullet in Ramallah. In the blockaded Gaza Strip, where 17 Palestinians have died in clashes in recent weeks, protesters clashed with Israeli forces along the northern and eastern borders.
Knife attacks, shootings and protests have become near daily occurrences since simmering tensions over the status of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound boiled over. The violence has left nine Israelis dead. The deaths of the latest attackers took the number of Palestinians killed in the recent unrest to 64, including many shot in anti-Israeli protests. One Israeli Arab attacker has also been shot dead. One of the alleged attackers, a 13-year-old Palestinian, appeared in court yesterday where he was charged with attempted murder for a knife attack against two Israeli schoolboys.
For the second week in a row no restrictions were placed on Muslims heading to pray at the Al-Aqsa compound in east Jerusalem. The site is revered as the holiest in Judaism, known as the Temple Mount, and is the third-holiest site in Islam. The recent unrest arose amid renewed fears that Israel plans to change the rules governing the site, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted he will not alter the status quo.
Protest in Hebron
Many of the attackers who have targeted Israeli forces come from the Hebron, a stronghold of the Islamist Hamas movement. The city, home to the final resting place of Prophet Abraham (PBUH) – revered in both religions – is another powder-keg, and many attacks have taken place around the holy site known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs.
Yesterday, dozens of protesters outside the site, known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, condemned restrictions on access imposed by Israel, which has split it into a mosque and a synagogue. Hebron, a city of 200,000 Palestinians, has long been the commercial heart of the occupied West Bank. But the presence of 500 Israelis settlers near the city centre, protected by barbed wire, watchtowers and a buffer zone patrolled by the Israeli army, has helped make it a hotbed for unrest.
The Israeli army said Thursday it will put in place “several precautionary measures… to contain potential attacks in the future and maintain the safety and well-being of Israelis” in the city. The Maariv newspaper reported that more army checkpoints were being set up in Hebron at the entrances and exits to Jewish areas, where Palestinians aged 15 to 25 will not be allowed to pass. – AFP