Death toll climbs as Palestinian unrest spirals

AFP-JIJI

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians threatened to spiral out of control Saturday with two more Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip, two stabbings outside Jerusalem’s Old City and more West Bank clashes.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have sought to avoid an escalation, frustrated Palestinian youths have defied efforts to restore calm and a wave of stabbings has spread fear in Israel.

Both leaders said they had spoken with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, each putting the blame on the other.

Netanyahu said he told Kerry he expected the Palestinian Authority to stop its “wild and mendacious incitement, which is causing the current wave of terrorism.”

And Abbas said he reiterated the need for Israeli authorities to stop giving cover to “settler provocations, carried out under the army’s protection.”

Kerry had shared his “deep concern” over the violence in separate conversations with the two, his office said in a statement, and “stressed the importance of upholding the status quo in word and deed at the al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and of preventing inflammatory rhetoric and actions that will increase tensions.”

A rocket fired by Gaza militants late Saturday was intercepted above southern Israel, the army said.

In the early hours of Saturday a rocket hit southern Israel without causing casualties, shortly after clashes along the border saw Israeli forces kill seven Palestinians.

Further clashes Saturday killed two more Palestinians.

Rioting has shaken annexed East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, with Palestinians throwing stones and firebombs at Israeli security forces, who have responded with live fire, rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades.

In Hebron, a Palestinian wounded in clashes with Israeli forces on Thursday died on Saturday night.

Medical sources identified him as Ibrahim Awad, 28, from Beit Umar, a village north of the southern West Bank city.

A 22-year-old Palestinian, whom Israeli police said they shot late Friday after he opened fire at them in East Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp, also died on Saturday.

Clashes erupted after his funeral, and one Palestinian who tried to throw a firebomb at security forces was shot in the leg, police said.

Gaza had been mainly calm amid the week’s unrest elsewhere, but clashes on Friday and Saturday exacerbated fears that a wider Palestinian uprising, or intifada, could erupt.

On Friday, the army said it had opened fire to prevent Palestinian attempts to storm the border fence, throwing stones and rolling burning tires.

Seven Palestinians were killed and 145 wounded, medics said.

In similar clashes and infiltration attempts east of the southern city of Khan Yunis Saturday, two young teenagers were killed and 10 people wounded by Israeli fire.

In central Gaza, and army statement said, dozens of suspects breached the fence with Israel.

“Five were caught … and taken for questioning. The rest retreated back into Gaza,” it said.

The clashes came as Hamas’s chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, called the overall violence an intifada and urged further unrest.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, remains deeply divided from Abbas’s West Bank-based Fatah.

On Saturday, Jordan’s parliament condemned “the crimes committed by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza,” accusing Israel of “state terrorism.”

Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab countries to have peace treaties with Israel.

Rioting hit various parts of the West Bank on Saturday, including Hebron, where youths clashed with Israeli forces after funerals for two residents who were killed while carrying out separate attacks earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, there were more stabbing attacks, which have spread fear among Israelis.

On Saturday morning, a Palestinian teenager stabbed and wounded two ultra-Orthodox Jews, aged 62 and 65, outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem, police and medics said.

Police said they shot and killed 16-year-old Ishak Badran, of Kafr Aqeb, in East Jerusalem.

Hours later in the same area, a 19-year-old also from Kafr Aqeb stabbed two police officers before himself being shot dead.

The stabbing victims were in moderate condition, medics said, with a third seriously wounded after being shot by another officer targeting the assailant.

Fourteen stabbing attacks have targeted Jews since Oct. 3, when a Palestinian murdered two Israelis in the Old City, sparking a security crackdown.

One revenge stabbing has occurred, with a 17-year-old Jew in the southern Israeli city of Dimona wounding two Palestinians and two Arab Israelis on Friday.

Netanyahu quickly condemned that attack, a sign there is concern that it could trigger further violence.

Abbas has spoken out against violence and in favor of “peaceful, popular resistance,” but many Palestinian youths are frustrated with his leadership.

Israeli police have struggled to prevent demonstrations among the country’s Arab population from deteriorating into violence.

Dozens of Arabs were arrested for throwing stones and firebombs at police and traffic, in a number of demonstrations throughout northern and central Israel.

Netanyahu announced Saturday he had ordered the emergency call-up of three reserve border police companies to reinforce officers in East Jerusalem and throughout Israel.