Four Palestinians killed in anti-Israeli knife attacks

Samih Shaheen

Hebron (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Four Palestinians were shot dead and a fifth wounded in attacks on Israelis in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, as violence that has fuelled concerns of an uprising showed no let-up.

The violence that has raged for more than two weeks prompted a "very concerned" US President Barack Obama to call for calm, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu due to chair a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Including alleged assailants, 41 Palestinians have been killed since the violence erupted on October 1, while seven Israelis have lost their lives.

The mounting death toll has prompted fears of a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising, like those of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, when thousands were killed in near-daily violence.

Three of Saturday's attacks took place in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron, where some 500 Jewish settlers live in a heavily-guarded enclave in the city centre surrounded by nearly 200,000 Palestinians.

A fourth was at a checkpoint in a Jewish settlement neighbourhood of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, and a fifth at another checkpoint.

All of the incidents involved a Palestinian assailant attempting to stab an Israeli, with at least four of the attackers shot dead.

In Hebron, 18-year-old Fadel al-Kawatsmi tried to stab a settler before his intended victim, who was unharmed, shot him dead, the army and Palestinian security sources said.

Video circulated by Palestinian activists showed a young man wearing a kippa brandishing a pistol as shots rang out before Israeli soldiers moved in to pull him away from a body lying on the ground.

- Stabbings -

Also in Hebron, a Palestinian teenage girl tried to stab a female Israeli soldier outside a border guard base before being shot dead by her would-be victim, and a Palestinian man was shot after stabbing and moderately wounding a soldier, though it was unclear whether the assailant was killed.

Elsewhere in the West Bank city, troops opened fire at stone-throwing Palestinian youths, wounding 11 with rubber bullets and one with a live round, Palestinian medics said.

Meanwhile in east Jerusalem, a Palestinian tried to stab a soldier at a checkpoint but was shot dead. Police said the 16-year-old assailant was from Jabal Mukaber, the same neighbourhood that was home to three Palestinians who carried out attacks earlier this week.

And a border guard killed a 24-year-old Palestinian who tried to knife him at a checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank, police said.

In the Gaza Strip, army gunfire on the border wounded at least four civilians, according to the enclave's health minister Ashraf al-Qudra.

Israeli security forces have deployed massively in Jerusalem to try to halt the attacks and, on Wednesday, began setting up checkpoints in parts of east Jerusalem, including Jabel Mukaber.

But that has failed to stop the violence.

Late Saturday, some 2,000 pro-peace demonstrators answered a call by Israeli leftist groups and gathered in the centre of Jerusalem under the banner "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies", an AFP reporter at the scene saw.

- 'Very concerned' -

The United States, which tried but failed last year to broker peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, urged leaders on both sides to help rein in the unrest.

"We are very concerned about the outbreak of violence," Obama said in Washington Friday, calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas "to try to tamp down rhetoric that may feed violence or anger or misunderstanding".

Abbas has been under pressure over recent comments that some have labelled incitement and has called for peaceful protests without explicitly condemning the violence.

But on Friday he condemned an arson attack the previous night on Joseph's Tomb, a West Bank site which is holy to Jews.

The same day, four Palestinians were killed, one after posing as a news photographer to stab and wound a soldier outside a Jewish settlement.

The violence began on October 1, when a suspected cell of the Islamist movement Hamas murdered a Jewish settler couple in the West Bank in front of their children.

But subsequent attacks are believed to have been "lone wolf" operations.

The violence came after repeated clashes in September between Israeli forces and Palestinian youths at east Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound.