JERUSALEM (AP) — Hundreds of soldiers fanned out in cities across Israel on Wednesday and authorities erected concrete barriers outside some Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem in a stepped up effort to counter a monthlong wave of Palestinian violence that has seen near daily attacks.
Despite the escalated security, two assaults were reported Wednesday — the stabbing of a 70-year-old Israeli woman outside a crowded Jerusalem bus station and the attempted knifing of police officers outside the Old City.
The enhanced measures came as Israel struggles to contain the spiraling violence and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces heavy pressure from hard-liners in his governing coalition to stamp out the attacks. The Palestinians called the new measures “collective punishment” that would only further enflame tensions.
The military’s deployment of six companies to back up thousands of police marks the first implementation of steps approved by Israel’s security Cabinet early Wednesday, which also include stripping attackers of their Jerusalem residency rights and demolishing assailants’ homes. The Cabinet also authorized police to impose closures on centers of friction and incitement in Jerusalem.
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Israel has been unable to stop the attacks, carried out mostly by young Palestinians apparently acting spontaneously with no affiliation to or backing from organized militant groups. That, coupled with the frequency of the attacks, which have killed eight Israelis this month, including three on Tuesday, has unnerved Israelis who fear the violence could deteriorate into another Palestinian uprising.
Palestinian leaders say the violence is the result of frustration and lack of hope for ending nearly 50 years of occupation and gaining independence.
Israeli police said 300 soldiers had been deployed in cities across Israel, joining a reinforced force of some 4,000 police officers already patrolling the streets and bus routes of Jerusalem. On Wednesday, police were seen waving through a line of cars as cranes placed concrete blocks at the entrances to Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, where many of the assailants are from.
“I think all the decisions we took … will lead eventually to us being able to restore calm,” Israeli Interior Minister Silvan Shalom told Israeli Channel 2 TV news.
But even with the heightened security, more violence hit Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Police said the 70-year-old woman was wounded in a knife attack as she boarded a bus outside Jerusalem’s central bus station. Forces on the scene shot and killed the attacker, who Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet said was a 23-year-old Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who had been jailed from 2012 until earlier this year.
Earlier, police shot and killed a 19-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank city of Hebron who they said had attempted to stab police officers outside Jerusalem’s Old City.
Israel said that as part of the new measures, the bodies of dead Palestinian attackers would not be returned to their families for burial.
Israel’s Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the funeral processions of Palestinians who killed Israelis often turn into “an exhibition of support for terror and incitement to murder.” He said Israel should not allow them to “enjoy respect and ceremonies” after their deaths.
The funerals are a frequent flashpoint for clashes and often include calls for revenge. Erdan suggested the attackers be buried without fanfare in distant cemeteries where Palestinian killers have previously been buried.
Besides the eight Israelis killed in a string of stabbings, shootings and the stoning of a car, 31 Palestinians also have died — 14 of them identified by Israel as attackers and the rest killed in stone-throwing clashes with Israeli forces.
The violence erupted a month ago over the Jewish New Year, fueled by rumors that Israel was plotting to take over Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, a hilltop compound revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine and a key national symbol for the Palestinians.
Israel has adamantly denied the allegation, saying the violence has been driven by what it calls rampant incitement against Jews on social media spread by Islamic groups and the Palestinian leadership.
In a briefing to foreign journalists Wednesday, Israeli Cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz showed Palestinian videos and animations that glorified the stabbings of Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem and the killing of a Jewish settler couple in the West Bank in front of their children.
He also quoted recent statements by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in which he blessed “every drop of blood spilled for Allah” and asserted that Jews desecrated a Jerusalem holy site with their “filthy feet.”
“This is not new. It is just a new wave of terrorism and violence and this time it’s totally clear that the main approach here is a religious approach,” Steinitz said. “It’s all about horrible, anti-Jewish, racist incitement.”
Palestinians say the violence, coming at a time when prospects for gaining independence appear nil, is the result of years of occupation and failed peace efforts.
“Israel is an occupier in Jerusalem. It should end its occupation. This is the key to peace and stability,” said Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian official.
“Decisions such as the ones adopted by the Israeli Cabinet pour gasoline on the fire,” he added. “Measures of collective punishment and killings and arrests and demolishing houses and confiscation of lands will only lead to the escalation of the situation.”
In a brief speech Wednesday, Abbas used a softer tone than in previous remarks, calling for “peaceful popular resistance.” Still, he blamed the Israeli occupation and the building of Jewish settlements on territory Palestinians want for a future state for the violence. He threatened to submit a case at the International Criminal Court against what he called Israel’s “extrajudicial killings” of Palestinians.
The clashes erupted last month at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City and quickly spread across Israel and into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Clashes continued Wednesday between Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
The Obama administration has issued a strong condemnation of Palestinian incitement and assaults against Israelis. The White House and State Department said Wednesday that Secretary of State John Kerry plans to visit the region soon to try to encourage calm, but released no details.
Associated Press Writer Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed to this report.