Three Palestinians were shot dead trying to stab Israelis in east Jerusalem and the West Bank on Saturday, as violence that has fuelled international concerns of a full-scale uprising showed no let-up.
The deadly unrest that has raged for more than two weeks prompted a “very concerned” US President Barack Obama to call for calm as the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Friday.
Including alleged assailants, 40 Palestinians have been killed since the violence erupted on October 1. Seven Israelis have lost their lives.
The mounting death toll has prompted fears of a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising, like those of 1987-93 and 2000-2005, when thousands were killed in near-daily violence.
Two of Saturday’s attacks happened in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron where some 500 Jewish settlers live in a heavily guarded enclave in the city centre surrounded by nearly 200,000 Palestinians.
The third happened at a checkpoint in a Jewish settlement neighbourhood of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
In the first attack in Hebron, a Palestinian tried to stab a settler before being shot dead by his victim, the army said.
Palestinian security sources identified the assailant as 18-year-old Fadel al-Kawatsmi. The army said the settler was not hurt.
Video circulated by Palestinian activists showed a young man wearing a kippa brandishing a pistol as shots rang out before Israeli soldiers moved in to pull him away from a body lying on the ground.
In the second attack, a Palestinian woman attempted to stab a female Israeli soldier guarding the Jewish enclave before being shot dead by her victim, Israeli police said.
The soldier suffered minor injuries to her hand, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
Palestinian media said her assailant was aged 16.
In east Jerusalem, a Palestinian tried to stab a soldier at a checkpoint in East Talpiot but was shot dead by other soldiers.
Police said the assailant was a 16-year-old from nearby Jabel Mukaber, the same neighbourhood that was home to three Palestinians who carried out gun, knife and car-ramming attacks earlier this week.
Israeli security forces have deployed massively in Jerusalem to try to halt the attacks and on Wednesday began setting up checkpoints in parts of east Jerusalem, including Jabel Mukaber.
But it has failed to stop the violence.
The United States, which tried but failed last year to broker peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, urged leaders on both sides to help rein in the unrest.
“We are very concerned about the outbreak of violence,” Obama said in Washington.
“It’s important for both (Israeli) Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu... and (Palestinian) president (Mahmud) Abbas and other people in positions of power, to try to tamp down rhetoric that may feed violence or anger or misunderstanding,” he said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who could travel to the region soon, has spoken separately to Abbas and Netanyahu to ask them to restore calm.
He told Abbas of the need to avoid “inflammatory rhetoric, accusations and actions that will increase tensions”, officials said.
Abbas has been under pressure over recent comments that some have labelled incitement and has called for peaceful protests without explicitly condemning the violence.
But on Friday he condemned an arson attack the previous night on Joseph’s Tomb, a West Bank site which is holy to Jews.
The same day, four Palestinians were killed, one after posing as a news photographer to stab and wound a soldier outside a Jewish settlement.
As hundreds of Palestinians joined the funeral of Ayad Awawdeh in the West Bank village of Dura on Saturday, his mother told AFP her son had “watched the news on television the whole time and exploded with anger at seeing so many horrors”.
Such funerals may soon be a thing of the past -- Israel has warned that it may not hand over the bodies of those responsible for attacks to their families for burial.
The violence began on October 1, when a suspected cell of the Islamist movement Hamas murdered a Jewish settler couple in the West Bank in front of their children.
But subsequent attacks are believed to have been the work of individuals acting independently of any organised militant group making them extremely difficult to prevent.
The violence came after repeated clashes in September between Israeli forces and Palestinian youths at east Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
The mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam and the most sacred for Jews who call it Temple Mount.
On Friday, Israel rejected Palestinian calls for an international protection force to be deployed to quell the violence around Al-Aqsa.