Several Palestinians carried out two stabbing attacks in Jerusalem on Saturday before being shot dead by police, the latest in a series of assaults against civilians and soldiers in Israel and the West Bank.
In the first incident, a 16-year-old Arab stabbed two Israelis who were walking from the Old City toward the city centre, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Police, who saw the men bleeding from stab wounds in their upper bodies and the knife-wielding Palestinian running toward them, opened fire, killing the attacker. The two victims were lightly wounded and evacuated to the hospital, Rosenfeld said.
Later, just outside the Old City, another Palestinian attacker stabbed two police officers, one in the neck. Rosenfeld said other police forces opened fire and killed the attacker, but also wounded one of their own in the process. In all, three officers were evacuated to hospital, one in serious condition.
The wave of attacks started in Jerusalem weeks ago and is linked to tensions over a sensitive holy site in the Old City that is sacred to Jews and Muslims. The attacks have since spread to the rest of Israel, while violent protests have erupted in the West Bank and along the Gaza border, where seven Palestinians were killed on Friday.
A rocket was fired from Gaza into southern Israel overnight, without causing any casualties or damage. Rosenfeld said police in an Arab east Jerusalem neighbourhood also came under attack overnight and responded with gunfire, hitting a 25-year-old. Health officials later confirmed the man had died of his wounds.
Violent protests resumed after the man’s funeral, with rocks and firebombs hurled toward police, who responded with fire and lightly wounded two people.
Protests also took place in the West Bank city of Ramallah, with demonstrators hurling rocks at Israeli troops who responded with tear gas. In the West Bank city of Hebron, thousands took part in two funeral processions for Palestinians who were killed while carrying out attacks in recent days. Mourners chanted anti-Israel slogans and dozens later confronted Israeli troops.
Some 1,500 people gathered in the Israeli-Arab city of Nazareth Saturday to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinians, and protests also resumed along the Gaza border.
Recent days have seen a series of attacks by young Palestinians wielding household items like kitchen knives, screwdrivers and even a vegetable peeler. The youths had no known links to armed groups and have targeted Israeli soldiers and civilians at random, complicating efforts to predict or prevent the attacks.
The violence, including the first apparent revenge attack by an Israeli on Friday and increasing protests by Israel’s own Arab minority, has raised fears of a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Since the latest wave of unrest began this month, eight Palestinians have been killed while carrying out attacks and 10 have been killed in protests and clashes in the West Bank and Gaza. The Red Crescent medical service says over 500 Palestinians have been wounded in violent protests in the West Bank, including about 100 from live fire.
At the start of the month, Palestinians shot two Israelis to death in front of their children in the West Bank. In a separate incident, a Palestinian killed two Israeli men and wounded a mother and toddler in Jerusalem.
Security forces were on high alert in Jerusalem Saturday in preparation for two big events in the evening that are expected to draw thousands: a Euro 2014 qualifying soccer match pitting Israel’s national team against Cyprus, and an open-air concert of renowned reggae rapper Matisyahu.
Leaders on both sides have called for calm. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under fire from hard-liners within his own governing coalition, as well as opposition lawmakers, for not putting an end to the surging violence. In a measure meant to ease tensions, Netanyahu has banned Cabinet ministers and lawmakers from visiting the sensitive Jerusalem holy site, fearing any high-profile spectacle could further enflame tensions.
The Jerusalem hilltop compound includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and is revered by Muslims as the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and by Jews as the site of the two Jewish biblical Temples.
Many Palestinians believe Israel is trying to expand the Jewish presence at the site, a claim Israel adamantly denies. Under a longstanding arrangement administered by Islamic authorities, Jews are allowed to visit the site during certain hours but may not pray there.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said his people had no interest in further violence and that he was committed to “peaceful popular resistance.”
Still, he voiced support for the protesters who have clashed with Israeli police at Al-Aqsa, hurling stones, firebombs and fireworks.