Hundreds of Palestinians, three Israelis injured as tensions remain high

Protests, clashes and street violence continue for a sixth day in Israel and the occupied territories

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Hundreds of Palestinians were injured, many shot by rubber-coated steel bullets, and three Israelis stabbed Wednesday, amid high tension after weeks of protests and clashes in the occupied territories.

More than 271 Palestinians were wounded in the West Bank as clashes between protesters and Israeli military forces continued for a sixth straight day, according to Red Crescent officials. Of those injured, 84 were struck by rubber-coated bullets, and others suffered wounds related to live fire and tear gas inhalation.

At least one Palestinian protester, a student in a march at Birzeit University, was critically injured after being struck by a rubber bullet in the head, local Ma’an News Agency reported. Four Palestinians were injured by live fire in Nablus and Bethlehem. Three others were shot by live fire near Ramallah by men thought to be undercover Israeli policemen.

On Monday, an Israeli soldier shot and killed a 12-year-old Palestinian in the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem. He was the sixth Palestinian child to be killed by Israeli forces or settlers in 2015, according to Defense for Children International.

Clashes, which often entail Palestinian youths hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at heavily armed Israeli soldiers, were reported in Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem, Jericho, Nablus and East Jerusalem as well as surrounding towns and villages.

The recent surge in violence was sparked by increased restrictions on Palestinian access to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and spread after two attacks allegedly perpetrated by Palestinians killed two Israelis in East Jerusalem and two Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Israeli settlers rioted after those killings, assaulting Palestinians and destroying their property.

Palestinian protesters are calling for unrestricted access to worship at Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. Jews revere the site as the location of two ancient temples. Demonstrators also want Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories and cease settlement building, both of which are illegal under international law.

Stabbing attacks

Israel on Wednesday also felt the violence, with three Israelis stabbed by suspected Palestinians attackers.

Authorities said a Palestinian attacker stabbed an Israeli man outside a mall in central Israel on Wednesday evening.

Israeli Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said civilians apprehended the attacker and police later detained him. She added that the victim was only moderately hurt.

Earlier in the day, Israeli police said a suspect stabbed a soldier and tried to take his weapon in southern Israel before being shot dead by police.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the man attacked the soldier after getting off a bus in the city of Kiryat Gat. The man then fled into a residential building, where police forces tracked him down and shot him.

Rosenfeld said the suspect's identity was not yet clear but that police were treating the incident as a “terrorist attack.”

Hours before that attack, a Palestinian teenager stabbed an Israeli man in occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli police said. The assailant was shot and wounded by the injured man. Police said the attack happened in an alleyway near the Western Wall, a Jewish prayer site abutting the Aqsa complex. The man was reportedly only lightly injured, and the teen is in serious condition.

Witnesses to the attack, however, dispute police claims that the teenager was armed and stabbed the man, according to Ma'an.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have sought to calm the recent surge in protests, clashes and street violence. However, Netanyahu has vowed to quell protests with a “harsh hand.”

“We will act with a very harsh hand against terrorism and also against incitement,” the prime minister said in a televised statement on Monday. “We will not give any rioter or any inciter immunity in any place, and so there are no limitations of the actions of the defense forces.”

Several thousand Israeli right-wing protesters, accompanied by lawmakers, gathered in front of Netanyahu’s residence on Monday evening, demanding a strong response to Palestinian unrest.

"If a terrorist decides to throw a stone, you need to deport him and all his family, to destroy his house and his family’s house, to take his citizenship. You need to hurt them," Oren Hazan, a lawmaker from Netanyahu's Likud party, told Agence France-Press at the rally.

Sending a message to potential Palestinian attackers, Israel razed homes on Tuesday in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal Al-Mukabbir belonging to the families of two Palestinians accused of attacking Israelis last year. Collectively punishing a family for a crime that one of its members committed is illegal under international law

Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas convened an emergency meeting in the West Bank on Monday to discuss the deteriorating situation. However, it’s not clear what actions, if any, were decided at that meeting, and the protests and clashes have continued unabated.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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