A Jewish man was shot and killed in a scuffle with Israeli soldiers who suspected he was a Palestinian attacker, police said Thursday, in a reflection of the jittery mood that has gripped Israelis amid a spate of near-daily stabbings.
The shooting came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Germany for talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry on how to restore calm. Kerry is set to meet with the Palestinians this weekend.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said soldiers deployed in Jerusalem demanded late Wednesday that the man show them his ID. The man refused, scuffled with the soldiers and then attempted to seize one of their weapons. A private security guard nearby shot the man, and one soldier also opened fire. The man later died of his wounds.
Police said the soldiers claimed the man had asked to see their IDs and proclaimed, “I am ISIS,” referring to the Islamic State militant group.
“The soldiers had high suspicions that he was a terrorist,” Rosenfeld said. Police later said the man was a 28-year-old Jewish resident of Jerusalem, without providing further details.
The Palestinian attacks have Israelis on edge. Several politicians have urged licensed gun owners to carry their weapons with them, and there have been several bloody accidents. In one case, an Israeli man stabbed a fellow Jew, thinking his victim was an Arab because of his dark skin. And earlier this week, a private security guard shot an Eritrean migrant he thought was an attacker during a bus station shooting.
As the Eritrean lay on the ground, a mob of people cursed him, kicked him and hit him with objects. He later died of his wounds. Police said the autopsy showed the man died from gunshot wounds and that four suspects arrested for their role in the beating were released on bail following a court appearance.
Opposition legislator Tzipi Livni accused hard-line politicians of fomenting a climate of fear and danger with their calls for people to arm themselves.
“This is not the Wild West,” she told Israeli Army Radio. “The suspicion there is now, the fear and the hate lead to brutal and very difficult results.”
Israelis have scrambled to purchase pepper spray for self-defence, and stores and restaurants are empty. Israel has beefed up security, deploying hundreds of soldiers to back up thousands of police officers. Police have erected concrete barriers and checkpoints at the entrances to Arab areas of east Jerusalem, where many of the attackers are from.
Many Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have been afraid to leave their homes for fear of getting mixed up with vigilante mobs or being mistaken for an attacker.
In new violence Thursday, police said two Palestinians stabbed an Israeli at a bus stop after they tried to board a bus ferrying children to school. Police shot the two men, one of whom later died while the other was seriously wounded. Police said the Israeli man was moderately wounded.
Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency said the men, both about 20 years old, have records of militant activity. One is a member of the Islamic militant Hamas group while the other was jailed for two years after he was caught carrying a knife at a sensitive West Bank holy site.
Also Thursday, Israeli troops placed a concrete barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, near a Jewish holy site where thousands of faithful are expected for a pilgrimage this weekend. The gathering threatens to heighten tensions in the city, where Palestinian demonstrators have been clashing with Israeli troops in recent weeks.
Police said they would deploy hundreds of troops in a bid to maintain calm. The holy site known as Rachel’s Tomb lies beyond Israel’s West Bank separation barrier on the outskirts of Bethlehem.
Ten Israelis have been killed over the last month, mainly in stabbing attacks. On the Palestinian side, 48 people have been killed, 27 of them labelled by Israel as attackers, the others killed in clashes with Israeli forces.
The violence erupted a month ago, fuelled by rumours that Israel was plotting to take over a sensitive Jerusalem holy site revered by both Jews and Muslims.
Palestinians point to the growing number of Jewish visitors to the site, as well as calls from activist groups and senior politicians for expanded prayer rights. Israel says it is committed to a longstanding status quo and adamantly denies the rumors, saying they incite violence.
The violence was initially confined to Arab areas of east Jerusalem but soon spread deep into Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinians say the violence is rooted in frustration at decades of living under Israeli occupation, while Israel accuses Palestinian leaders of inciting the unrest.
Diplomatic efforts have kicked off in a bid to quell the violence. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders during a visit to the region this week and then offered the Security Council a grim assessment of prospects for defusing the violence.
Netanyahu, after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, was meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday.
Speaking at the side of Netanyahu before the talks, Kerry also condemned what he referred to as Palestinian incitement, and said he hoped their meeting would help “settle on the steps that will be taken that take us beyond the condemnation and beyond the rhetoric.”
Kerry is scheduled to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan this weekend. The Quartet of Mideast mediators, a grouping that includes the US, UN, EU and Russia, is set to meet Friday to call for calm. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said the Quartet’s first goal would be to tamp down the rhetoric of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.