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Tensions high in Israel after new attacks

October 10, 2015

Israeli security forces have killed two Palestinian youths along Gaza's border fence, as the conflict threatens to escalate. Israeli police have also shot dead three further Palestinian assailants in Jerusalem.

Ambulance in Jerusalem
Image: Getty Images/AFP/G. Tibbon

Tensions were high in Israel on Saturday after 11 days of violence, which saw four Israelis and at least 19 Palestinians killed. In Gaza, Israeli soldiers shot dead two Palestinian youths as they were taking part in protests near the Israeli border security fence, Palestinian medical officials said.

An army spokeswoman said the protesters, in an Israeli-declared no-go security zone by the border, were hurling burning tires and stones toward the soldiers, who fired warning shots in the air before shooting "at the main instigators."

The Gaza border region has been largely calm since last summer's war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian militant group which controls the territory. But on Friday night, a rocket was fired from Gaza into southern Israel, though it didn't cause any casualties or damage.

Further deaths in Jerusalem

On Saturday, two further Palestinians were shot dead by police near Jerusalem's walled Old City. In one incident, a Palestinian stabbed two police officers near the Damascus Gate, seriously wounding one of them, before police opened fire.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that police forces had also wounded one of their own in the gunfight. Three officers were taken to hospital, with one remaining in serious condition.

The attack came a few hours after another Palestinian stabbed and wounded two ultra-Orthodox Jewish men nearby.

Violence in Hebron
Israeli and Palestinian police forces have tried to work together to restore order in the occupied territoriesImage: Reuters/M. Qawasma

Rosenfeld said that paramilitary police had also killed a Palestinian militant after coming under fire from him during late-night clashes at the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. Hamas said in a statement that the Shuafat shooter was one of its members.

"The hero martyr fought the Israeli occupation with language they understand," Hamas said.

Temple Mount at center of conflict

The violence has largely been fuelled by Palestinian fears that recent visits by Jewish groups and lawmakers to the Jerusalem Old City plaza, revered in Judaism as the site of two destroyed biblical temples, could be eroding Muslim religious control of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third holiest shrine.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he would not allow any change to the arrangements under which Jews were allowed to visit the site while non-Muslim prayer continued to be banned there. His assurances over conditions at the site, known as Temple Mount to Jews and as Noble Sanctuary to Muslims, have done little to quell alarm among Muslims across the region.

Ariel Sharon, Israel's former opposition leader and prime minister, visited the Al-Aqsa compound in 2000, enraging Palestinians and leading to an uprising that continued for five years. The so-called second Intifada left about 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis dead.

Ido Zelkovitz, an expert on Palestinian history at Haifa University, told AFP news agency that the current wave of attacks was "led by a young generation with no collective memory of the second intifada" - including the deaths and destruction of Palestinian infrastructure that accompanied it.

Risk of 'third intifada'

The recent Palestinian knife attacks, which have been occurring on an almost daily basis, and the associated clashes between Israeli soldiers and stone-throwing Palestinians have not quite reached the levels of violence of past Palestinian uprisings. However, the escalation has still prompted talk of a "third intifada," or uprising.

Ali al-Qaradaghi, a prominent Muslim cleric at the Doha-based International Union of Muslim Scholars, urged worshippers on Saturday to join what he described as an uprising. He is widely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Violence in Hebron
Clashes have spread to other cities including Hebron, where protestors set fire to buildings after funeral processionsImage: Getty Images/AFP/H. Bader

"Every Muslim should contribute to the intifada that started for the sake of Al-Aqsa and Palestine," he wrote on his Twitter account.

Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Friday that Gaza would "fulfill its role in the Jerusalem intifada and it is more than ready for confrontation."

No end in sight

Both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have called for calm as Palestinian police continued to try to restore order alongside Israeli security forces. Abbas, however, had previously accused Israel of agitating Palestinians during the conflict.

In the West Bank city of Hebron, thousands took part in two funeral processions for Palestinians who were killed while carrying out attacks in recent days. Some 1,500 people gathered in the Israeli-Arab city of Nazareth on Saturday to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinians. Protests also reached to several Arab towns in Israel, as the knife attacks spread to the rest of the country.

Security forces were also on high alert in Jerusalem on Saturday in preparation for two big public events in the evening that were expected to draw thousands: a Euro 2014 qualifying soccer match between Israel and Cyprus, and an open-air concert by reggae rapper Matisyahu.

Four Israelis and 20 Palestinians have been killed since October 1, including at least seven suspected attackers. Israeli security forces have also arrested approximately 400 Palestinians since the outbreak of violence in the occupied West Bank.

ss/cmk (Reuters, AP, AFP)