Hundreds of soldiers have fanned out in cities across Israel and authorities erected concrete barriers outside some Arab neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem to counter a wave of Palestinian violence.
Despite the escalated security, two assaults were reported on Wednesday – the stabbing of a 70-year-old Israeli woman outside a crowded Jerusalem bus station and the attempted knifing of police officers outside the Old City.
The enhanced measures came as Israel struggles to contain the spiralling violence and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces heavy pressure from hard-liners in his governing coalition to stamp out the attacks.
The Palestinians called the new measures “collective punishment” that would further enflame tensions.
The military’s deployment of six companies to back up thousands of police marks the first implementation of steps approved by Israel’s security cabinet, which also include stripping attackers of their Jerusalem residency rights and demolishing assailants’ homes.
The cabinet also authorised police to impose closures on centres of friction and incitement in Jerusalem.
Israel has been unable to stop the attacks, carried out mostly by young Palestinians apparently acting spontaneously with no affiliation to or backing from organised militant groups.
That, coupled with the frequency of the attacks which have killed eight Israelis this month, including three on Tuesday, has unnerved Israelis who fear the violence could deteriorate into another Palestinian uprising.
Palestinian leaders say the violence is the result of frustration and lack of hope for ending nearly 50 years of occupation and gaining independence.
Israeli police said 300 soldiers had been deployed in cities across Israel, joining a force of 4,000 police officers already patrolling the streets and bus routes of Jerusalem. Police were seen waving through a line of cars as cranes placed concrete blocks at the entrances to Arab neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, where many of the assailants are from.
“I think all the decisions we took … will lead eventually to us being able to restore calm,” interior minister Silvan Shalom told Israeli Channel 2 TV news.
But even with the heightened security, more violence hit Jerusalem.
Police said the 70-year-old woman was wounded in a knife attack as she boarded a bus outside Jerusalem’s central bus station. Forces on the scene shot and killed the attacker, who Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet said was a 23-year-old Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who had been jailed from 2012 until earlier this year.
Earlier, police shot and killed a 19-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank city of Hebron who they said had attempted to stab police officers outside Jerusalem’s Old City.
Israel said that as part of the new measures, the bodies of dead Palestinian attackers would not be returned to their families for burial.
Internal security minister Gilad Erdan said the funeral processions of Palestinians who killed Israelis often turn into “an exhibition of support for terror and incitement to murder”. He said Israel should not allow them to “enjoy respect and ceremonies” after their deaths.
Besides the eight Israelis killed in a string of stabbings, shootings and the stoning of a car, 31 Palestinians also have died – 14 of them identified by Israel as attackers and the rest killed in stone-throwing clashes with Israeli forces.