Mideast violence spikes despite new Israeli measures

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Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces on October 14, 2015 in the West Bank city of Bethlehem (AFP Photo/Musa al-Shaer)
Israel has struggled to curb a spate of violence that has raised fears of a full-blown uprising, with more knife attacks shaking Jerusalem despite moves to set up checkpoints in Palestinian neighbourhoods and mobilise hundreds of soldiers.
 
As the surge in violence entered its third week on Thursday, Washington said it would send US Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East soon to seek to calm tensions.
The unrest has sparked fears of a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, like those of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, when hundreds of people were killed in near daily violence.
The first of Wednesday\’s attacks occurred when a man, reportedly a 20-year-old from the West Bank city of Hebron, tried to stab a security guard at an entrance to the Old City but was shot dead before harming anyone.
The other saw a 23-year-old Palestinian stab and wound a woman of around 70 near the crowded central bus station during rush hour before being shot dead by police, sparking panic among commuters.
With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under immense pressure to halt the violence and frustrated Palestinian youths defying attempts to restore calm, police said 300 Israeli soldiers were joining their patrols.
The government also announced further tough measures, including easing firearms laws for Israelis and stripping alleged attackers from east Jerusalem of their residency permits.
In his first address since the violence began, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said in televised remarks that he supported "peaceful and popular" struggle against Israel.
 
The wave of mainly stabbing attacks by Palestinians has spread fear in Israel, while a gun-and-knife attack on a Jerusalem bus on Tuesday killed two people.
A third Israeli was killed in Jerusalem on Tuesday when a Palestinian attacker rammed his car into pedestrians, making it the city\’s bloodiest day in the current wave of unrest.
All three attackers in Tuesday\’s incidents were from east Jerusalem, and two were shot dead.
The move to install checkpoints followed a decision by Netanyahu\’s security cabinet authorising police to seal off or impose a curfew on parts of Jerusalem.
 
The current wave of unrest has seen seven Israelis killed and dozens wounded.
At least 30 Palestinians have died, including alleged attackers, some of them teenagers. Hundreds have been wounded in clashes with Israeli security forces.
 
While the stabbing and gun attacks have fanned Israeli anger and fear, video footage shared online of security forces shooting dead alleged attackers has fed Palestinian anger, with protesters seeing some of the killings as unjustified.
On Wednesday, video purported to be of an attacker being shot while on the ground outside Jerusalem\’s Old City spread on the Internet.
At the funeral for 28-year-old Moataz Zawahra, killed the previous day in clashes in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, youths with their faces covered in red keffiyeh headscarves carried his body and called him a "martyr".
Clashes broke out after the funeral, with youths throwing stones and firebombs and Israeli forces responding with tear gas and rubber bullets — a daily occurrence in parts of the occupied West Bank in the past two weeks.
The number and extent of the checkpoints in east Jerusalem appeared limited Wednesday.
In the neighbourhood of Jabel Mukaber, where Tuesday\’s attackers lived, four armed police were seen checking cars leaving the area.
Such checkpoints were used during past spikes in violence, much to the anger of Palestinian residents who consider it collective punishment.
Meanwhile, on the same bus route hit by Tuesday\’s attack, a Jewish man who looked to be in his 20s and who declined to give his name displayed a container of pepper spray in his pocket.
"I\’m very worried," he said near the scene of the attack.
The rising tide of violence has seen more than 20 stabbing attacks.
The head of Lebanon\’s powerful Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, backed the Palestinian unrest.
The violence began on October 1, when a suspected cell of the Islamist movement Hamas shot dead a Jewish settler couple in the West Bank in front of their children.
Those killings followed repeated clashes at east Jerusalem\’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in September between Israeli forces and Palestinian youths.
SOURCE: REUTERS

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