Friday, October 30, 2015

Knife-wielding Palestinians Strike in West Bank, Jerusalem; Two Dead

Knife-wielding Palestinians attacked Israelis in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank on Friday and police said they had shot dead two assailants, in a further wave of violence spurred partly by tensions over a Jerusalem holy site.

Four people, including another Palestinian assailant, were wounded in the incidents at an Israeli paramilitary police checkpoint outside the West Bank city of Nablus and at a tram station in East Jerusalem, ambulance officials said.

There were also violent confrontations on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Ramallah and in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians massed at the border and lobbed rocks at Israeli forces on the other side.

Around 40 demonstrators were wounded by Israeli fire, at least one critically, medics said.

This month's welter of violence, the worst since the 2014 Gaza war, arose in part from religious and political tensions over the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's walled Old City that is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

A growing number of visits by religious Jews to the al-Aqsa plaza - Islam's holiest site outside Saudi Arabia and revered in Judaism as the location of two destroyed biblical temples - have stirred Palestinian allegations that Israel is violating a "status quo" under which non-Muslim prayer there is banned.

Israel says such allegations are false and that their voicing by Palestinian officials and circulation in Arab social media has been inciting the violence.

Since the latest unrest began on Oct. 1, at least 64 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israelis. Of those, 37 were assailants armed mainly with knives, Israel said, while others were shot during violent anti-Israel protests. Many were teens.

Eleven Israelis have been killed in stabbings and shootings.

On Friday, two Palestinians used a motorcycle to reach an Israeli paramilitary police checkpoint at a junction near a Jewish settlement outside Nablus, dismounted and rushed at the troopers with knives drawn, a police spokeswoman said.

They lightly wounded one policeman before being shot by a policewoman, the spokeswoman said. One of the Palestinians was killed and the other critically wounded.

In the second incident, police shot dead a Palestinian after he carried out a knife attack at a tram station near Jerusalem's Old City, medical officials and police said.

They said two people, believed to be Israelis, were wounded in the incident. One was stabbed and another was hit by gunfire directed at the assailant.

Palestinians are also frustrated by the failure of numerous rounds of peace talks to secure them an independent state in territories, including the West Bank, that Israel captured in a 1967 war. The last phase of negotiations collapsed in 2014. The deadlock has bolstered the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza and advocates Israel's destruction.

Jerusalem had in recent days been spared violence as it shifted to West Bank areas like the city of Hebron, site of the Cave of the Patriarchs, another shrine holy to Muslims and Jews.

Palestinians said Israel had announced it would declare the area around the cave compound off-limits to them after Friday's weekly Muslim prayers.

In a statement, the Israeli military said only that "several precautionary measures were taken in order to contain potential attacks in the future and maintain the safety and well being of Israelis" in Hebron, where there is a small Jewish settlement.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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