Israel applies lethal response to wave of Palestinian attacks

By Luke Baker JERUSALEM (Reuters) - By now, the news alerts are all too familiar: "Stabbing near Old City: Israeli wounded, attacker shot dead", read a recent bulletin. Another came by text message on Wednesday: "Stabbing attack: 2 wounded, one light, terrorist shot dead." Over the past 2-1/2 months, since a wave of violence by Palestinians targeting Israelis began on Oct. 1, 19 Israelis and a U.S. citizen have been killed in shootings, stabbings and car-rammings across Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank. It is the worst surge in violence many Israelis have experienced since the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada, ended a decade ago. This time, as security makes access to firearms difficult, attackers rely on knives and other blades. More than 200 Israelis have been wounded, many of them seriously, according to the Israeli Security Agency. Over the same period, 106 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers, police or civilians either in the aftermath of attacks, on suspicion that they were about to carry out an attack or in related violence, according to a Reuters count and figures from the Palestinian Monitoring Group. The disparity in the number killed on each side - and the fact more than 13,500 Palestinians have been injured, including many in demonstrations, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry - has led to accusations by rights groups and others that Israel is using excessive force to quell the unrest. The United States, the European Union and the United Nations have all expressed concern, saying that while they recognize Israel's right to self-defense, restraint is necessary to ensure the violence does not escalate further. On Oct. 21, shortly after Jerusalem's mayor had urged Israelis with gun licenses to carry their weapons, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned about vigilantism. "We urge everybody to exercise restraint and restrain from any kind of self-help in terms of the violence," he said. Kerry was vilified in Israel for his remarks, with commentators suggesting he was being soft on terrorism. But since then Sweden has gone further, with Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom referring to "extrajudicial executions". While her office said her comments to the Swedish parliament last week were misunderstood and "blown out of reasonable proportion", Wallstrom cited the discrepancy she saw between the number of Israelis and Palestinians killed. "This is what I say in other situations where the response is such that it results in extrajudicial executions or is disproportionate in that the number of people killed on that side exceeds the original number of deaths many times over," she said, according to a transcript released to Reuters. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately called his Swedish counterpart to complain, accusing Wallstrom of applying a double standard since she had not said the same thing about the response to attacks in Paris or San Bernadino. "This is the second time she refers to Israel and says things that are unacceptable to us and are not true," he said. HIGH DEATH TOLL In Israel, a country that has fought repeated wars and uprisings over its 67-year history, where most do military service and it is common to see people carrying weapons, any suggestion of excessive use of force is hotly rejected. Comparisons with London, where a man stabbed three people at a station last week and was subdued by police using a Taser gun, are dismissed out of hand, with defenders of Israel's response pointing out that it has faced months of daily stabbings and the political and security context is acutely different. Comparisons with other places gripped by unrest are difficult, but the numbers show a high percentage of people who carry out attacks are killed rather than detained. Data compiled by Israeli researcher Nehemia Gershuni-Aylho, using information from news reports, emergency responders, the police and others, shows that 74 of 123 Palestinian attackers have been shot dead since Oct. 1 - exactly 60 percent. The Israeli Foreign Ministry, using different sources and methodology, compiled data from the police, army and security services and broke the attacks down into two categories: short-range (stabbings, shootings and car-rammings) and longer-range (stone-throwing, fire bombings). It told Reuters that out of 127 close-range attacks, 61 assailants had been killed - 48 percent of the total. For longer-range violence, one in three assailants were killed. "Claims of extrajudicial killings are totally wrong and mistaken and the figures demonstrate it," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon, adding that Palestinian assailants are often treated in Israeli hospitals and brought to justice. From the Palestinian perspective, there is no question that Israel, which has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967 and limits Palestinians' movement throughout areas they want for a state, is carrying out extrajudicial killings. "The majority of Palestinians are being shot and killed on the spot, whether they represent a threat or not," said Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi, adding that she believed the number of assailants killed was well above 60 percent. "These killings are in most cases carried out by fully armed military or police," she told Reuters. "They are carrying out on-the-spot executions. They are extrajudicial and a crime." (Writing by Luke Baker; editing by Giles Elgood)