Israel vows crackdown after Palestinian car attack

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  • Benjamin Netanyahu
    Benjamin Netanyahu
    9th Prime Minister of Israel

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israel pledged Thursday a tough response to any further attacks in Jerusalem as police flooded flashpoint Arab neighbourhoods after a Palestinian rammed his car into a group of pedestrians and killed a baby.

The second deadly incident involving a Palestinian vehicle in three months, Wednesday's attack prompted a sharp warning from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Jerusalem is united and was, and always will be, the eternal capital of Israel. Any attempt to harm its residents will be met with the harshest response," he said.

Police dubbed as a "hit-and-run terror attack" Wednesday's incident in which Abdelrahman Shaludi, 21, drove at high speed into a crowd of Israelis, killing the baby and injuring another six people.

Shaludi, from Silwan in east Jerusalem, was shot as he fled on foot and later died.

Israel said he was a Hamas activist, but while relatives confirmed he was the nephew of a top-Hamas bomb-maker killed in 1998, it was not clear whether he belonged to the Islamist movement.

The incident triggered clashes between police and stone-throwing Palestinians across east Jerusalem.

By Thursday morning, on Netanyahu's orders, police surged into flashpoint neighbourhoods in a bid to stamp out persistent unrest.

- 'Seeds of desperation' -

Netanyahu also lashed out at Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, accusing him of encouraging attacks.

"Jerusalem is coming under attack by terror... and this attack is supported by the chairman of the Palestinian Authority," he said.

But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat accused Netanyahu of turning a blind eye to Israel's provocative actions in the city's strife-hit east.

"The man, once he looks at the mirror... should know who's responsible for the miserable situation of Palestinians and Israelis, the escalation of violence and so on," he said.

"He plants the seeds of desperation."

Relatives said Shaludi had been recently released from prison where he served 14 months for disturbing the peace, a euphemism for participating in unrest.

Palestinian community officials say the wave of unrest is fuelled by a sense of hopelessness resulting from Israel's policies in east Jerusalem, which have left many youths with a sense they have nothing to lose.

- 'Zero tolerance policy' -

Unrest has gripped east Jerusalem on an almost daily basis for four months, and Israeli commentators said it was being fanned by recent acquisitions of homes in the area by Jewish settlers.

Police said Thursday they had adopted a "zero tolerance" policy toward any violence in Jerusalem.

Officials said a plan to end the unrest included aerial observation and the deployment of extra forces on the ground, some of them undercover.

Mayor Nir Barkat said there was no choice but to flood tense neighbourhoods with police.

"The situation in east Jerusalem is intolerable... Today it is clearer than ever that we have to deploy police into neighbourhoods where there are disturbances to stabilise them," a statement said.

Washington, which denounced Wednesday's attack as "despicable", confirmed that the baby girl was a US citizen.

"The baby was an American citizen, yes," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, adding that the US consulate was "in close touch with the family".

Three-month-old Haya Zissel Braun was buried at a late-night funeral in Jerusalem.

During another incident in August, a Palestinian rammed a bus with an excavator, killing one Israeli and injuring five. Police shot the driver dead.

- Settlements 'fanning the flames' -

Much of Palestinian anger over Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem has focused on Silwan -- a densely populated Arab neighbourhood on a steep hillside just south of the Old City.

Silwan hit the headlines in the past month when settlers acquired another 35 apartments there, triggering outrage from the Palestinians and US condemnation.

Jewish groups buying up property in the heart of Arab neighbourhoods is an explosive political issue because it touches on the future of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as capital of a future state.

The groups are looking to establish a contiguous Jewish presence in the area, thereby preventing any future division of the Holy City under a peace deal.

Israeli commentators said settlement expansion in Silwan had enflamed anger ignited in early July after the grisly murder of a teenager by Jewish extremists.

"Since the murder, the area... has been on the brink of anarchy," wrote Alex Fishman in Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

"The Israeli establishment did its part in fanning the flames of the growing anarchy -- Jews going to live in Silwan (and) forbidding Muslims from entering the Temple Mount during Jewish holidays," he wrote of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a site holy to both faiths.

"The government must stop permitting private (Jewish settlement) organisations from invading neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem," Shimon Shiffer wrote in the same paper.

"If they continue to do this, it is reasonable to assume that the Palestinian reaction will escalate."

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