A driver ploughed into pedestrians in Jerusalem Friday, injuring five people in an attack that further inflamed tensions a day after the Palestinians vowed to halt security coordination with Israel.
Israeli-Palestinian relations have been severely strained by last year’s war in the Gaza Strip, violence in Jerusalem and Palestinian moves to sue Israel for alleged war crimes.
The Palestinian threat to end security coordination ramped up pressure on Israel ahead of a general election this month, although president Mahmud Abbas has pledged to negotiate with whomever is elected.
Friday’s car ramming bore the hallmarks of a series of “lone wolf” attacks by Palestinians in Jerusalem last year.
“A young man rammed his car (into pedestrians), and then got out and tried to stab people,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement.
Four Israeli border guards were among those hurt in the attack outside a security base on the line separating west from Arab east Jerusalem.
The driver was shot and seriously wounded by a security guard, police said.
They said the suspect, in his 20s, was a resident of east Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel after it occupied the West Bank in 1967.
Relatives identified him as Mohammed Salaymeh from the Ras al-Amud neighbourhood.
Israel was shaken by a spate of attacks in the Holy City in October and November in which Palestinians ploughed vehicles into groups of pedestrians, killing several people.
On those occasions the attackers were shot dead at the scene.
– Months of tension –
The incidents triggered months of tension, including violent protests, in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of a future state.
Relations worsened in December when the Palestinians submitted a UN Security Council resolution — which was voted down — calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank within two years.
In January the Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court, where they plan to file a formal war crimes accusation against Israel in April, almost a year after the two sides broke off peace talks.
Israel has hit back by freezing tax revenue to Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, leaving the administrative body unable to pay its workers.
On Thursday, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which dominates the PA, announced it was ending security cooperation with Israel.
Coordination in security matters began under the 1993 Oslo peace accords which led to the PA’s creation.
It is considered crucial for Israel to monitor the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and its West Bank members.
If implemented, the halt to cooperation would force Israel to “take over full responsibility for the Palestinian people in the occupied State of Palestine, the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza”, the PLO said.
It gave no timeframe for ending security coordination, but a PLO executive committee member insisted it would go ahead.
“Now it is left to the executive committee to decide how and when,” Asaad Abdelrahman told AFP.
That could be “any day, anytime”.
– ‘Politically motivated move’ –
However, commentators view the move as politically motivated — aimed at forcing Israel to unfreeze Palestinian tax money — and said the lack of a deadline indicated the PLO would not make good on its threat.
“It’s one of several resolutions that were issued… that no one believes are going to be implemented anytime in the foreseeable future, including strengthening reconciliation with Hamas and holding elections in the West Bank and Gaza,” Nathan Thrall of The International Crisis Group told AFP.
The PLO also resolved to reconcile with rivals Hamas, with which it signed an April unity deal that was never implemented, and to hold long-overdue Palestinian elections “as soon as possible”.
A Western diplomat, requesting anonymity, said the Palestinians would wait to see who takes office after Israel’s March 17 election.
“The timing they seem to be working on is after the Israeli elections, or the formation of a new government,” the diplomat said.
Abbas, despite vowing to continue to press the Palestinian case through the United Nations, signalled he was willing to resume peace talks with whomever Israelis vote for.
“We ask all countries of the world to recognise the state of Palestine,” he said at the PLO conference on Wednesday.
“But we want to say to the Israeli side, these recognitions do not mean in any way that we do not want to negotiate, or that we’re running away from negotiations.”
“Whoever” wins the Israeli election, Abbas said, “or whatever his politics… we will deal with him.”