At least four street attacks and deadly clashes along the Gaza border are threatening to escalate tensions throughout Israel as security forces struggle to control spiralling violence.
A rash of attacks aimed at Israeli civilians and soldiers this week have been mostly carried out by young Palestinians stabbing people on the streets seemingly at random, making it difficult for authorities to predict or prevent them.
A Palestinian used a vegetable peeler as a weapon to stab a 14-year-old Israeli in Jerusalem, while an Arab-Israeli woman was shot and wounded while attempting to stab people at a bus station in northern Israel, police said.
Meanwhile, Gaza‘s Health Ministry said four people were killed and about a dozen injured in clashes with Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border.
The Israeli military said about 200 Palestinians in Gaza advanced toward soldiers on the border and threw rocks and rolled burning tyres at troops stationed there. It said that forces opened fire at the main instigators to stop their advance.
The border has been mostly quiet since last year’s war between the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, and Israel but several rockets have been fired recently at Israel from the territory.
Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh applauded the recent Palestinian stabbing attacks across Israel in a speech and called the surge in violence an “Intifada” or uprising.
The border clash was the first time since the unrest began several weeks ago that the violence has reached Gaza.
The attacks were initially confined to east Jerusalem, site of the sacred Al-Aqsa mosque, and the West Bank – both territories captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war and claimed by the Palestinians for their future state. But this past week the violence has spread to Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities.
What began as Palestinians throwing rocks and firebombs at passing cars and police morphed into a deadly shooting and a rash of knife attacks in which Palestinians stabbed Israeli civilians and soldiers in the streets.
A police officer was stabbed by a Palestinian while four Arabs were stabbed by an Israeli in the southern city of Dimona. In the northern Israeli city of Afula, a 29-year-old woman from Nazareth, a member of Israel’s Arab minority, attempted to stab people at a bus station before she was shot and injured by a security guard, police said.
The Afula attack came shortly after a Palestinian man attacked a police officer with a knife and tried to grab his gun near the entrance to the Kiryat Arba settlement in the West Bank. The officer was lightly injured and killed his attacker, police said.
Less than an hour earlier, the Palestinian who stabbed the 14-year-old Jerusalem was arrested, police said.
Earlier, two members of Israel’s Bedouin minority and two Palestinians were wounded in a stabbing by an Israeli man in Dimona, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. The men were taken to hospital for treatment.
Israeli media reported the stabber said after his arrest that he carried out the attacks in retaliation for the numerous Palestinian attacks on Israelis this week.
Dimona mayor Beni Bitton said the stabber was a “mentally ill man”. He told Channel 10 TV that two of the victims worked for City Hall, and that passers-by rushed to help the wounded Arabs and provide first aid.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu “strongly condemned the harming of innocent Arabs”. He said whoever uses violence will be brought to justice.
In Jerusalem, Israeli security forces braced themselves for more unrest, barring young Palestinian men from a sacred Jerusalem Old City site in an attempt to restore calm. Ms Samri said men under 45 are barred from the Al-Aqsa mosque compound while women of all ages can enter.
The age limit has been set intermittently in an attempt to ensure peace at the site, as it is mostly younger Palestinians involved in the violence.