Two knife attacks inside Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including the fatal stabbing of a woman in her home, boosted tensions Monday after months of violence and raised fears of an escalation.
As a manhunt was under way for the assailant in Sunday\’s fatal stabbing, a new knife attack Monday on a street in another West Bank settlement wounded a 30-year-old pregnant woman.
The 17-year-old Palestinian assailant was shot by security personnel and taken to hospital in severe condition after the attack in Tekoa, south of Jerusalem.
While the attacks were part of a months-long wave of violence, the stabbings have usually occurred in public areas such as checkpoints, at junctions and entrances to Jerusalem\’s Old City rather than inside Jewish settlements.
The new attacks triggered fears that the unrest was worsening and Israel would impose a harsh security crackdown on Palestinians.
Palestinians who work in settlements in the south of the occupied West Bank were not allowed in on Monday, the army said, in an order that affected several thousand labourers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signalled further security measures, pledging to "strengthen the communities" in response to the deadly stabbing in the Otniel settlement near the flashpoint city of Hebron in the southern West Bank.
"Whoever tries to harm us, we will bring him to justice," Netanyahu said. "In the end he will be found and he will pay the full price."
The woman killed was identified as Dafna Meir, a 38-year-old nurse and mother of six.
At least some of her children, aged four to 17, were home at the time, but none was hurt. The attacker remained at large on Monday.
Michal Froman, who was stabbed on Monday, was five months pregnant and her injuries were not considered life-threatening.
She is the daughter-in-law of the late Rabbi Menahem Froman, a Jewish settler and peace activist who was one of the few Israelis to have talked with Hamas, the Islamist group which calls for Israel\’s destruction.
Meir\’s funeral in Jerusalem on Monday was attended by hundreds of mourners, including Israeli politicians and Jewish settlers carrying rifles.
Her husband sat in the front row sobbing with two of their children in his lap.
"One hour before everything happened, we were still discussing what nail polish I should wear," their 17-year-old daughter Renana said at the funeral. "Now you won\’t escort me to my wedding."
Located near Otniel, the Palestinian village of Karma was sealed off Monday as the army guarded entrances.
“Yesterday … the village was raided and they arrested all the young men, and people were detained until 3:00 in the morning,” Talab Mahmud Abu Sheikha, head of the local village council, told AFP.
Meir\’s death brought the toll in the spate of violence to 24 Israelis and 155 Palestinians killed since October 1.
Many of the Palestinians killed have been attackers, while others have been shot dead by Israeli forces during protests and clashes.
Israel\’s government had already come under heavy pressure over the spate of attacks and Sunday\’s killing provoked fresh outrage.
Many of the Palestinian attackers have been young people, including teenagers. A number of them have attempted attacks with kitchen knives in what some analysts have described as virtual suicide missions.
US ambassador Dan Shapiro on Monday condemned the stabbings as "barbaric acts of terrorism," but also questioned Israel\’s policies concerning settlements in the West Bank.
The European Union agreed a statement on the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process after resolving differences over wording which some felt was too critical of Israel.
"The EU firmly condemns the terror attacks and violence from all sides and in any circumstances, including the death of children," it said.
Some 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the territory in near-constant tension with 2.5 million Palestinians.
The settlements are seen as major stumbling blocks toward peace efforts since they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
"We are concerned and perplexed by Israel’s strategy on settlements," Shapiro told a security conference in Tel Aviv.
"This government and previous Israeli governments have repeatedly expressed support for a negotiated settlement that would involve mutual recognition and separation.
"Yet separation will become more and more difficult" if Israel continues to expand settlements, he said.
Some analysts say the attacks have been in part driven by frustration with the complete lack of progress in peace efforts, Israel\’s occupation of the West Bank and the fractured Palestinian leadership.
Israel says incitement by Palestinian leaders and news media has been a main cause of the violence.