At least ten Israelis have suffered injuries in stabbing attacks today (Thursday) in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the West Bank – with one attacker shot dead by IDF troops.
The first attack – at a railway station in the north of Jerusalem – saw a 19-year-old Palestinian knife a 25-year-old religious student, who is said to be in a serious condition in hospital. A security guard suffered minor injuries while apprehending the attacker, police have said.
In Tel Aviv, an Israeli soldier and four members of the public were stabbed with a screwdriver before soldiers shot the attacker – who has not been identified other than as a “terrorist” by the authorities – dead. All five victims suffered light wounds.
In Tel Aviv, an Israeli soldier shot and killed an Arab attacker after he stabbed and wounded four Israelis with a screwdriver, including a female soldier near a busy Tel Aviv road, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. The attacker’s identity was not immediately known.
Earlier, Ms Samri said a Palestinian teenager stabbed a 25-year-old Israeli in the neck in Jerusalem, wounding him seriously, before police arrested the attacker.
— Israel News Flash (@ILNewsFlash) October 8, 2015
A further attack near Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, saw a Palestinian stab an Israeli close to a Jewish settlement. Military sources say the victim was severely wounded. The attacker is then understood to have fled. Israeli forces were searching the area for the assailant after he fled the scene.
Four Israeli Jews have already been killed this week, with five Palestinians shot and killed in reprisals.
TERROR SCENE: Israeli man being evacuated in critical condition after stabbed in his upper body by Arab terrorist. pic.twitter.com/5qNs8iEdt8
— Israel News Flash (@ILNewsFlash) October 8, 2015
As part of a concerted effort to head off escalating tensions – which some people say could represent the start of a third Intifada – prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday pledged to act “with a very harsh hand against terror”. Blaming the violence on “Palestinian incitement”, Bibi added: “We will not give any rioter or any inciter or immunity in any place, and so there are no limitations of the actions of the defence forces.”
Late on Thursday evening, reports of two Israelis being stabbed in the northern city of Afula emerged. According to initial reports, the stabbing is was reported to injure two, with moderate wounds after being knifed in the upper body. A statement described the victim as a 20-year-old. The attacker was disarmed.
The wave of violence prompted the Israeli prime minister to bar cabinet ministers and politicians from a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City that is at the heart of the latest tensions. It was the latest violence in a week in which bloody attacks left four Israelis dead. Including Thursday’s incident, six Palestinians have been killed in the unrest.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s move to try to calm the situation appeared to put the Israeli leader on a collision course with hardliners within his own governing coalition. They have been putting intense pressure on Mr Netanyahu to respond to the surge in violence with a tough crackdown and increased settlement activity.
But Mr Netanyahu is also wary of angering the American administration and risking another fully fledged uprising with too tough a response that could lead to a higher number of casualties on both sides. The Jerusalem hilltop compound lies at the heart of recent tensions.
It is revered by Muslims as the spot where Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven and by Jews as the site of the two Jewish biblical temples. Many Palestinians believe Israel is trying to expand Jewish presence at the site, a claimIsrael adamantly denies and considers slanderous. 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 neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem and to the West Bank, and on Tuesday there were disturbances in Jaffa, a largely Arab area of Tel Aviv.
Even with Thursday’s stabbing attacks, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said 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 barricaded themselves inside Al-Aqsa and clashed with Israeli police. He insisted the Palestinians are not interested in a further escalation but that his “hands are with those who are protecting Al-Aqsa mosque”.
Along with the four Israelis killed in stabbings by Palestinian attackers and a roadside shooting in the last week, six Palestinians, including four of the attackers, have also been killed. On Wednesday, new stabbings occurred outside a crowded shopping centre in central Israel, in a southern Israeli town and in the Old City of Jerusalem.
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 as a measure to prevent attacks.
According to an Israeli official, Mr Netanyahu ordered the ban on the holy site because he was concerned that any high-profile visits there could spark further violence.
In 2000, then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount – known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary – shortly before the second Palestinian intifada erupted.
In a statement from Geneva on Thursday, the UN human rights chief appealed for calm, warning that “more bloodshed will only lead to more hatred on both sides” of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.
Zeid Raad al-Hussein said he was “deeply concerned at the increasing number of reported attacks” by both Israeli settlers and Palestinians, following reports that at least 134 Palestinians have been injured by live ammunition and many more hurt by rubber bullets or tear gas. “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.
Mr Netanyahu’s ban, which initially only applied to Jewish polticians, sparked an angry response from Uri Ariel, a cabinet minister from the pro-settler Jewish Home party, who recently visited the site and drew Palestinian claims of a provocation. He said the decision was “unfathomable” and that he would take the issue up directly with Mr Netanyahu.
Responding to the pressure, Mr Netanyahu later updated the ban to include all politicians. That, in turn, sparked angry threats from several Arab polticians who said Mr Netanyahu had no moral authority over them. Two of the politicians have already announced that they plan to visit the site on Friday.
With the attacks spilling into the Israeli heartland, Mr Netanyahu has warned Israelis to be on guard.
In another sign of the 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 neighbourhood and on Thursday, he encouraged other licensed gun owners to also carry their weapons at this tense time.
“One of the advantages Israel has is that there are manyveterans of military units with operational combat experience,” he said. “Having a weapon increases the resident’s confidence.”
In related developments, some Jerusalem schools went on strike to protest over the lack of security on campuses. Mr Barkat said the city’s students have been “abandoned” and that it was irresponsible to send them to school with the threat of violence looming.