JERUSALEM (AP) — A series of grisly Palestinian attacks that killed several Israeli civilians has prompted the government to take unprecedented security measures amid growing public debate over whether the specter of another Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, is on the horizon.
Israel’s prime minister vowed a “harsh offensive” to counter rising violence that has focused in recent weeks over Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site sacred to both Muslims and Jews, in a series of so-called “lone wolf” Palestinian attacks against Israelis. On Sunday, Israel announced that Palestinians would be temporarily barred from Jerusalem’s Old City, the first time Israel has taken this step since it captured the Old City in the 1967 Mideast War.
The latest spike in violence comes at a time when many Palestinians no longer believe statehood through negotiations with Israel is possible. Israeli commentators have raised the possibility of a third uprising, though Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has so far prevented major outbreaks of violence despite his growing friction with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel’s leading newspaper commentator, Nahum Barnea, called the recent violence the “Third Intifada,” referring to Palestinian uprisings in the 1980s and the early 2000s. “Not calling it by name allows the political and military establishment to evade, repress, shirk responsibility,” he wrote in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.
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But Hani al-Masri, a Palestinian political analyst, said it was not likely the start of a new uprising. “Intifada needs a leadership and the Palestinian political leadership is against it,” he said.
Netanyahu convened an emergency meeting of top security officials as soon as he returned to Israel Sunday afternoon from the U.S. Channel 10 TV reported that Netanyahu asked the meeting if a third Intifada is under way and was answered in the negative.
After the meeting Netanyahu said he ordered “additional steps to deter terror and punish terrorists.” He said that includes “fast tracking the razing of terrorists homes,” beefing up security in Jerusalem and the West Bank and “banning those that incite (to violence) from the Old City and the Temple Mount.”
Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of the Israeli parliament’s powerful foreign affairs and defense committee, told Channel 2 TV that Israel is taking a “long list” of measures to “lower the flames.”
However he said “this is not an Intifada” but rather the continuation of “a wave of terror” launched against Israel for decades.
A Palestinian teenager stabbed and moderately wounded a 15-year-old Israeli early Sunday morning in Jerusalem before being shot dead by an Israeli officer, police said.
Relatives of the teen identified him as Fadi Alloun, 19. He wrote the day before on his Facebook page: “Either martyrdom or victory.”
Just hours earlier on Saturday night, a Palestinian, Muhannad Halabi, attacked a family as they walked in the old city, killing the father, seriously wounding the mother and lightly injuring their 2-year-old toddler before proceeding to stab another Israeli man to death. The 19-year-old wrote on Facebook before the attack: “What’s happening to our holy places? What’s happening to our mothers and sisters in the Al-Aqsa mosque? We are not the people who accept humiliation. Our people will revolt.”
Adele Banita, whose husband Aharon was killed and her two-year-old child wounded in that attack described the horrific assault.
She told Israeli media that she felt something in her back and then saw the Palestinian assailant stabbing her husband before turning round to stab her again. “There were lots of Arabs around looking … laughing and smiling,” she said.
After she tried to help her husband she said she ran for help. Palestinian onlookers “spat at me and slapped me in the face. While the knife was still stuck in me they slapped me and laughed at me.”
She said she pleaded with them to help her two-year-old child and was told by the onlookers to “die.”
The stabbings were the latest in a series of deadly Palestinian attacks.
On Thursday, suspected Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli couple in front of their children as they drove in the West Bank.
An Israel died when his car was pelted with stones last month and there have been numerous incidents of Palestinians attacking Israelis and throwing stones at passing vehicles.
Abbas last week seemingly made good on his threat to drop a “bombshell” in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly when he declared that the Palestinians cannot continue to be bound by 20-year-old Olso Accords and their accompanying security and economic agreements with Israel.
Yet his warning, while potentially a game-changer for Israeli-Palestinian relations, lacked a timetable and specifics, suggesting little will change on the ground for now and that Abbas hasn’t opted for full-on confrontation.
His hard-line speech was the last of several that Israeli leaders have condemned as incitement. Abbas has said that Israelis desecrate the contested Jerusalem holy site with their “dirty feet.”
Much of the recent violence has stemmed from tensions at the sacred hilltop compound, a frequent flashpoint and its fate is a core issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, site of the two biblical Jewish temples. Muslims revere it as the Noble Sanctuary, where they believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
There have been several days of clashes at the site over the past few weeks as Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa mosque while hurling stones, firebombs and fireworks at police. The unrest spread to Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and to the West Bank.
While blaming Palestinian leaders for incitement to violence at the site, Israeli officials have questioned why the Muslim authorities that administer the holy site allow protesters to stockpile rocks and firebombs and other munitions inside the mosque.
Israel has vowed to take a tough stance against the attackers but in the current tense environment also fears that a harsh response to such attacks could lead to an escalation of violence.
Sentiments regarding the site run deep and even an isolated incident could spiral out of control. In 2000, when future Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ascended the mount in a demonstration of Israeli sovereignty over the site, it helped spark wide Palestinian protests that quickly escalated into the second Intifada.
In response to the recent violence, Israeli police said they would prevent Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from entering the Old City for two days during a Jewish holiday. Palestinians who live, work and study within the Old City, as well as Israelis and tourists, will be allowed in.
“This is a drastic measure that’s being taken in order to make sure there are no further attacks during the Jewish festival where you can see thousands of people visiting the Old City,” Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Israel captured the Old City and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war from Jordan, and later annexed the areas. Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their hoped-for independent state.
Some 300,000 Palestinians live in Jerusalem, making up about a third of the city’s population. They live in the predominantly Arab eastern district and have residency status in the city, but do not hold Israeli citizenship.
They are usually free to enter the Old City in east Jerusalem, where major Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites are located. Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann said it is the first time since Israel captured the Old City in 1967 that it has prevented Jerusalem’s Palestinians from entering.
In the West Bank on Sunday, Israeli troops shot and wounded at least 6 Palestinians in an arrest raid in the Jenin refugee camp, a Palestinian hospital director said. The refugee camp was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the second Palestinian intifada.
Monther Irshaid, director of the Khalil Suleiman Hospital in Jenin, said the Palestinians were shot in the legs with live bullets and two suffered serious leg injuries.
Additionally, Red Crescent spokeswoman Arrab Fukaha said another 22 Palestinians sustained light injuries from live fire in clashes with Israeli forces at several other locations in the West Bank, while about 100 others were lightly hurt from rubber bullets.
Late Sunday, Gaza militants fired two rockets at Israel causing no damage or injuries, the military said.
Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed to this report.