Israel stepped up security nationwide Tuesday as a young Palestinian was shot dead during clashes with the Israeli army in the wake of the killing of a soldier and a settler in Palestinian knife attacks.
Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian during clashes in the West Bank on Tuesday as a wave of unrest gripped the country, raising fears of a new Palestinian uprising.
The death of the 22-year-old near Hebron came as troops tried to disperse about 150 Palestinians who were hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at passing cars close to the settlement of Kiryat Arba, the army said.
Since the current round of violence began exactly five months ago with the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers by militants, at least 17 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, according to an AFP count.
Tuesday’s clashes erupted as police tightened security nationwide after a soldier and a settler were killed Monday in separate Palestinian knife attacks, as months of unrest in Jerusalem spread across the country.
In the first incident, a Palestinian teenager stabbed a young soldier in Tel Aviv who later died of his wounds. The assailant was arrested.
Hours later, another knife-wielding Palestinian attacked three Israelis in the southern West Bank, killing a young woman and wounding two other people before being shot and badly wounded.
The bloodshed followed months of clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in and around annexed east Jerusalem.
The unrest spread to Arab areas of Israel at the weekend after police shot dead a young Arab-Israeli during a routine arrest operation.
– ‘Back to dark days’ –
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a brief televised address Tuesday night said he had decided to “reinforce security measures across the country, destroy terrorist houses, implement a stringent policy against stone and Molotov cocktail throwers, and fine the parents of stone throwers.”
Netanyahu also criticised the “irresponsibility” of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who he accused of “inciting more violence”.
As Israeli commentators questioned whether the surge in violence marked the start of a third Palestinian intifada, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said it was too early to define recent events.
“We don’t see the masses going out onto the streets (in the West Bank). What we do see in certain places is youths who are participating in popular terror, and principly, we are seeing lone attackers,” he told reporters.
“So what do we call it? It’s clear there is an escalation, an increase in violence but what shall we call it? Let’s wait and see.”
But he urged the public to be alert, warning Israel had to prepare for “the possibility of a further escalation”.
The growing sense of fear on the streets has evoked memories of the second deadly Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which began in 2000.
“This is the same soundtrack that we all remember from the days of the intifada: you haven’t yet had time to come to terms with the morning’s terror attack… and your heart skips a beat because you know that within an hour or two there is going to be another,” commentator Alex Fishman wrote in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper.
“If this madness doesn’t stop right now, we are going to find ourselves back in those same dark days of the second intifada.”
– Return of armed resistance? –
Israel has significantly increased the police presence on the streets in recent months in a bid to rein in the unrest, but has been unable to stop a growing number of attacks by lone Palestinians, most of them in Jerusalem.
The wave of unrest began in annexed east Jerusalem in early July after the murder of a Palestinian teenager by young Jewish extremists.
It has been further fuelled by tensions at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, as well as by moves to expand the settler presence in the occupied eastern sector of the city.
In a speech marking 10 years since Arafat’s death, Abbas vowed that the Palestinians would “defend Al-Aqsa and the churches” against Jewish extremists.
Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghuti called for the leadership to back “armed resistance” against Israel, which he said would be “faithful to Arafat’s legacy, to his ideas and his principles.”
Barghuti, who is widely believed to have masterminded the second Palestinian intifada which began in 2000, is currently serving five life sentences for attacks on Israeli targets.