UNITED NATIONS/Jerusalem - Three Palestinians were shot dead on Saturday in what Israel said were thwarted knife attacks in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank as tensions ran high after more than two weeks of unrest.
At least 40 Palestinians and seven Israelis have died in the street violence, which was in part triggered by Palestinians’ anger over what they see as increased Jewish encroachment on Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound. There were contradictory accounts of one of the shootings, near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank city of Hebron. Israel said a Palestinian attempted to stab an Israeli civilian, who was carrying a gun and then shot and killed the attacker. But a Palestinian man told Reuters that his daughter, a high school student, witnessed the shooting and said it happened when Jewish settlers attacked an unarmed Palestinian.
In a neighbourhood around East Jerusalem, Israeli border police had stopped to question a 16-year-old Palestinian walking in “a suspicious manner”, a police spokesman said. The teenager drew a knife and tried to stab the officers, who shot him dead, the spokesman said.
Also in Hebron, a Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli border policewoman, cutting her hand, a police spokesman said. The policewoman shot the attacker, he said. The Palestinians killed in the last two weeks have included knife-wielding assailants and protesters shot by Israeli forces during rock-throwing confrontations. The seven Israelis have died in random attacks in the street or on buses.The violence has mostly occurred in Jerusalem and the West Bank but it has also erupted along the Gaza-Israel border. On Saturday Israel’s army defused a rocket it said had been fired by Gaza militants overnight, landing in an open area.
The street violence, some of the worst in years, has been intensified by conflicting witness accounts and amateur video that has been interpreted in different ways. In some cases, witnesses gave accounts that were later shown by video footage to be false. Israel says it is keeping the status quo at the holy compound, which is also revered by Jews as the location of two destroyed biblical Jewish temples. Peace talks collapsed in 2014 over Israeli settlement-building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Palestinians seek for a state, and after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas angered Israel by reaching a unity deal with the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza. The last major confrontation was the Gaza conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2014, which left large sections of Gaza destroyed. Around 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 Israelis, most of them soldiers, were killed.
The United States has stepped up efforts to try to restore calm to the region. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas to discuss ways to end the violence. Kerry and Netanyahu are due to meet next week in Germany. Palestine’s top diplomat to the UN Friday called on the Security Council to consider providing international protection for Palestinians under Israeli occupation, but Israel rejected any international presence around the al-Aqsa Mosque. Ambassador Riyad Mansour told an emergency session that the 15-member Council must “shoulder its responsibility in maintaining international peace and security” and “urgently intervene to end this aggression”. “We call upon you once again to deal seriously and urgently with the question of providing international protection for our people,” he said.
He said the Council should adopt a resolution similar to “Resolution 904”, which was passed in 1994 following a massacre of Palestinian worshippers in the West Bank during the holy month of Ramadan.The resolution called for “measures to be taken to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilians throughout the occupied territory”.
For its part, Israel’s deputy UN envoy David Roet said his country would not accept any international protection force around the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex. “Let me be crystal clear. Israel will not agree to any international presence on the Temple Mount,” Roet said, using the Jewish term for Al-Aqsa. More than 30 Palestinians have been killed in the past two weeks of conflict that some observers are calling a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Violence has risen since last month when Israeli authorities launched a crackdown on Palestinians at Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, which is Islam’s third-holiest site, while allowing groups of extremist Jewish settlers to enter the site in large numbers.
“There were are 35 martyrs, including children and more than 1,000 injured,” the Palestinian ambassador said, adding, “Most of them were minors.” The Holy Shrine and the Al-Aqsa mosque were subjected to continued aggression by extremists who wanted to impose a change from the present situation, a provocation leading to further escalation and which threatened to turn the conflict into a religious one, he added. Jordan’s U.N. Ambassador Dina Kawar, whose country is custodian of the al-Aqsa compound, said Jordan is not pushing for a new international force. But she said Israeli security forces should stay away from al-Aqsa.
Taye-Brook Zerihoun, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for political affairs, told the council that Israel’s long occupation of Palestinian territory and diminishing prospects for achieving a Palestinian state “have transformed long-simmering Palestinian anger into outright rage.” He said “this stark reality” has been compounded by increasingly dire economic conditions, including bleak employment prospects for Palestinian youths and expanding Israeli settlement activities.
Zerihoun warned Israel that the current crisis cannot be resolve security measures alone.
“The Israeli Defence Forces have significantly bolstered their presence in Israeli city centres, while many Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem have been surrounded by security forces with access roads blocked and checkpoints established,” Zerihoun added, noting that the Israeli authorities had also reinstated a number of movement restrictions in the West Bank.”
He also spoke of the introduction of additional measures that have been introduced with the goal of deterring would be terrorists from carrying out attacks. Homes of those accused of carrying out terror attacks will be demolished within days of any attack and their families, if residents of East Jerusalem and not Israeli citizens, will have their permanent residency status revoked, he said.
“The United Nations has maintained a consistent position on these issues,” he continued. “Collective punishments, including house demolitions, are counter-productive and contravene international law. I we have urge Israel to immediately cease this damaging practice. France’s U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said it’s crucial it’s crucial the two-state solution does not fall apart, given the risk that Islamic State extremists “might one day take up the Palestinian cause, with the consequences we can imagine.”