Israel bars Palestinians from Jerusalem Old City after attacks

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israel barred Palestinians from Jerusalem's Old City Sunday as violence spread after two Israelis were stabbed to death, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of "a fight to the death against Palestinian terror".

Netanyahu convened his top security officials immediately after landing back in Israel Sunday from delivering a speech to the UN General Assembly.

"These steps include, among others, speeded up demolition of terrorists' homes," he said in a video address in Hebrew distributed by his office.

The Old City restrictions announced Sunday by police will be in place for two days, with only Israelis, tourists, residents of the area, business owners and students allowed.

Worship at the sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims, will be limited to men aged 50 and above. There will be no age restrictions on women.

Israeli security forces were already on alert after recent clashes at the compound and surrounding Old City, as well as the murder in the West Bank of a Jewish settler couple in front of their young children on Thursday.

Threatening to stoke the flames higher still, Israeli troops shot dead an 18-year-old Palestinian man during clashes in Tulkarem in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian police and medics said.

Huzeifa Othman Suleiman is the first Palestinian to be killed in a spike of violence in the West Bank after a Palestinian attacker killed two Israelis in Jerusalem's Old City on Saturday evening, prompting an Israeli security clampdown.

Netanyahu said he instructed ministers on steps "to prevent terror and deter and punish the attackers".

They would also include broader use of detention without trial for suspects, further reinforcement of security forces in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank and restraining orders keeping unspecified "inciters" away from Al-Aqsa.

- 'Shoot him' -

The Palestinian government denounced "Israeli escalation" after the announcement of the ban, which Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called unprecedented.

The Red Crescent reported 77 Palestinians were wounded by both live rounds and rubber bullets on Sunday after clashes broke out in the West Bank in Tulkarem, Jenin, the Hebron area and the outskirts of Ramallah.

Around 300,000 Palestinians live in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, where the Old City is located.

On Saturday night, a Palestinian said to be an Islamist militant killed two Israeli men and wounded a woman and a toddler in a knife and gun attack in the Old City. Police shot dead the attacker.

In a separate incident early Sunday, a 19-year-old Palestinian stabbed and wounded a 15-year-old passerby in west Jerusalem before being shot dead by police while fleeing.

Video circulated on social media showed what appeared to be the alleged attacker walking as bystanders shouted "shoot him" in Hebrew before a policeman fired and he fell to the ground.

Unrest broke out in neighbourhood of Issawiya in east Jerusalem where the attacker in Sunday morning's stabbing was from.

There have been fears that the sporadic violence could spin out of control, with some warning of the risk of a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for calm, saying he was "deeply concerned that these latest incidents signal a dangerous slide toward escalation".

- 'Act of resistance' -

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called Ban and appealed for international protection for his people from Israeli settler attacks, Abbas's office said.

In his address Thursday to the UN General Assembly, Abbas said he was no longer bound by previous accords with Israel due to violations by Netanyahu's government.

It was not immediately clear what he meant in practice, however, and it remains to be seen if he will try and calm the latest tensions or abandon longstanding security cooperation with Israel.

Saturday's Old City attack saw a two-year-old child wounded in the leg and taken to hospital. A woman was in serious condition, rescue services said.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said it appeared the child had been shot.

The two men who were killed were a 41-year-old rabbi and resident of the Old City as well as a 21-year-old who lived in a West Bank settlement and was an off-duty soldier, Israeli media said.

The attacker first used a knife, but reportedly took a gun from one of the male victims and fired at police running to the scene, before he was himself shot dead.

Militant group Islamic Jihad said he was one of its members, but did not claim responsibility for the attack. Islamist movement Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip, praised the attack as "a heroic act of resistance".