Palestinian stabbings defy Israeli bid to contain unrest

Mike Smith
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Israeli Zaka volunteers clean up blood stains at site where a 19-year-old Palestinian man stabbed a Jewish man in Jerusalem on October 8, 2015

Israeli Zaka volunteers clean up blood stains at site where a 19-year-old Palestinian man stabbed a Jewish man in Jerusalem on October 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Four new stabbings wounded Israelis Thursday and an assailant was shot dead as a spate of such attacks spread fear and defied attempts by authorities to contain Palestinian unrest.

A Palestinian was also shot dead by Israeli security forces as clashes broke out in east Jerusalem as security forces headed to the home of one of the alleged attackers.

The stabbings -- at least nine since Saturday -- have deeply unnerved Israelis, and authorities have struggled to prevent them, with the suspects often young Palestinians believed to be acting on their own.

Violence has also spread in annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, sparking fears of a third intifada.

In Thursday's first attack, a Palestinian stabbed a 25-year-old Jewish man in Jerusalem, leaving him in serious condition. The 19-year-old assailant, identified as Subhi Abu Khalifah from Shuafat in east Jerusalem, was arrested.

Later in the day, an Israeli soldier and three passers-by were stabbed and lightly wounded in Tel Aviv and the attacker killed.

The suspect stabbed his victims with a screwdriver before another soldier shot him dead, according to police, who identified him as Thaer Abu Ghazaleh, in his late teens.

In the third incident, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli near the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba in the West Bank, the military said. The victim was seriously wounded and the attacker fled.

And an Arab stabbed and wounded a soldier in the northern Israeli town of Afula before being captured, authorities said.

The spate of stabbings began on Saturday when a Palestinian killed two Israelis in Jerusalem's Old City, prompting an Israeli security crackdown.

Violent demonstrations in east Jerusalem and the West Bank have seen youths throwing stones and firebombs face off against Israeli security forces firing rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades.

Fresh clashes broke out at the Bet El checkpoint outside the West Bank city of Ramallah Thursday, as well as in Shuafat, where the as yet unnamed Palestinian was killed during the Israeli operation.

- 'Maximum alert' -

Over the past week, four Israelis have been killed along with seven Palestinians, four of them after alleged attacks on Israelis.

According to the Red Crescent, 86 Palestinians have been wounded by live fire and 344 by rubber bullets in clashes since October 2.

Authorities on both sides have wrestled with how to respond.

Far-right politicians are calling for forceful action and security officials, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas seeking to avoid an escalation.

Security measures were further tightened Thursday, with at least one metal detector set up in Jerusalem's Old City at a main entrance and police stationed on rooftops.

Some Israeli mayors, including that of Jerusalem, went as far as to encourage residents who own guns to carry them around with them.

Abbas spoke again Thursday of wanting "peaceful, popular resistance" and not violence, but many Palestinian youths are frustrated with his leadership as well as Israel's right-wing government.

Netanyahu postponed a visit to Germany to tackle the violence and planned a news conference later in the evening.

Israeli and Palestinian officials reportedly met for security talks in the West Bank on Tuesday evening, and there have been international calls for calm.

- Al-Aqsa ban -

In a bid to calm tensions, Netanyahu has barred members of parliament and ministers from visiting the Old City's Al-Aqsa mosques compound, which has seen repeated clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian youths in recent weeks.

Provocative visits by Israel's Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel as well as by Israeli Arab lawmakers have added to the volatility.

But the Arab lawmakers have vowed to defy the order and plan to make a joint visit to the compound, which is the third-holiest site in Islam and the most sacred for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.

Muslims fear Israel will seek to change the longstanding rules governing the site, which allow Jews to visit but not pray to avoid provoking tensions.

Netanyahu has said repeatedly he is committed to the status quo.

An increase in visits by Jews during a series of Jewish holidays in recent weeks has added to tensions.