Israelis shot dead four Palestinians, who they said attacked them with knives on Saturday in Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Hebron, as protests against Israel’s illegal military occupation continued throughout the Palestinian territories.
Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said a 16-year-old Palestinian drew a knife on officers in Jerusalem when they stopped him to ask for identification after a bystander said he was behaving suspiciously. She said the officers shot and killed the teenager after he tried to stab them.
Also on Saturday, Israel's military said an Israeli pedestrian shot and killed a Palestinian who tried to stab him in Hebron, a flashpoint city where a few hundred Israeli settlers live in close proximity to tens of thousands of Palestinians. The military said the Palestinian was shot dead before he could harm the man. Witnesses disputed the Israeli version of the event, saying the incident looked more like an attack by the settler on the Palestinian.
Video circulated by Palestinian activists showed a young man wearing a yarmulke brandishing a pistol as shots rang out before Israeli soldiers moved in to pull him away from a body lying on the ground. Palestinian security sources identified the Palestinian as 18-year-old Fadel al-Kawatsmi.
Later, Israeli forces said a Palestinian woman stabbed a female officer at a police base in Hebron before the officer shot her dead. The officer's hand was lightly wounded. Palestinian media said the assailant was 16 years old.
On Saturday night, the Israeli army said a soldier was stabbed and wounded at the Qalandia checkpoint in Hebron. The attacker was quickly shot and killed.
Dozens of Palestinians on Saturday were also injured by live fire, rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas as protesters clashed with Israeli forces in Gaza and throughout the West Bank.
The recent surge in violence broke out in early October after Israel imposed restrictions on worshipers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. After the restrictions were implemented, four Israelis were killed in two attacks blamed on Palestinians. Israeli settlers in the West Bank responded by rioting, assaulting Palestinians at random and destroying their property. A spate of protests, clashes and retaliatory stabbings have ensued.
Since the beginning of October, at least 42 Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed. More than 1,500 Palestinians have also been injured in clashes with Israeli forces, forcing the Red Crescent to declare an emergency.
Palestinian protesters are calling for unrestricted access to worship at Al-Aqsa, a site also revered by Jews as the location of two ancient temples. The protesters also demand an end to Israel’s decades-long military occupation of the Palestinian territories and the cessation of settlement building, both of which are illegal under international law.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has at times tried to calm the situation by saying violence is not in the Palestinians' interest and behind the scenes has ordered his security forces to reduce frictions.
Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s U.N. ambassador, on Friday called on the body’s Security Council to immediately deploy an international peacekeeping force to the Temple Mount, where Al-Aqsa is located.
Danny Danino, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. quickly rejected the call.
"Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo and does not agree to the deployment of international forces to the Temple Mount, which will only violate the status quo that has prevailed for decades," he said.
In a slew of new measures aimed at curbing the stabbing attacks, Israel announced on Wednesday that it would demolish the home and revoke residency of any Palestinian Jerusalemite accused of attacking Israelis. Palestinians have long accused Israel of trying to rid the city of Arabs, and some have said the current violence could be used as an excuse to further that plan.
Meanwhile, Israeli public officials, including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, have encouraged Israeli Jews to carry guns to protect themselves against stabbing attacks.
“The sense is that the entire country is the front line and that everyone is a candidate for stabbing,” wrote Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the daily Yediot Ahronot.
Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are similarly afraid — as many stabbing suspects have been summarily executed by Israeli authorities in the street. Palestinians worry that if they are perceived as a threat, they too could meet a similar fate.
“People are afraid. They fear being shot, so they prefer to stay at home until this thing is over,” said Zakrayiya Alqaq, a Palestinian university professor.
U.S. officials and various rights groups, including Amnesty International, have slammed Israel’s response to the ongoing protests as “excessive.”
“We’ve certainly seen some reports of what many would consider excessive use of force,” U.S. State Department Spokesman John Kirby said Thursday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he would meet with Netanyahu in Germany next week to discuss ways to end the crisis, State Department officials said Friday. He will then travel to the Middle East to meet separately with Palestinian leadership.
Al Jazeera and wire services