Assault on Al-Aqsa: New violence shatters lull

Palestinian relatives of Salaham Abu Jamea, 24, who was killed by Israeli troops, mourn during his funeral in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 6, 2015. — Reuters pic
Palestinian relatives of Salaham Abu Jamea, 24, who was killed by Israeli troops, mourn during his funeral in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 6, 2015. — Reuters pic

RAMALLAH, Nov 7 — Violence erupted yesterday in the Palestinian territories after a lull in weeks of unrest, with two Israelis shot during a pilgrimage to a flashpoint holy site and clashes in the West Bank and Gaza.

The new round of violence came ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Washington, where he will meet US President Barack Obama on Monday.

Attacks and violent protests throughout October raised fears of a new Palestinian uprising, but violence had waned in recent days. Unrest has often erupted after the main weekly Muslim prayers on Fridays.

Most of the recent violence has occurred in the southern West Bank city of Hebron and have mainly involved stabbings.

Yesterday, however, two Israelis were shot and wounded by unknown assailants as they visited a flashpoint holy site in the city along with several thousand others, the army said.

Medics said the victims were a 16-year-old in serious condition and a lightly wounded 18-year-old.

The incident occurred at the site known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, and the army said around 4,000 Jewish worshippers were visiting yesterday as part of a religious pilgrimage.

Hebron has 200,000 Palestinian residents with approximately 500 Israeli settlers living in the centre, protected by an army-patrolled buffer zone. The situation is a constant source of tensions.

After the incident at the holy site, a 20-year-old Israeli was also shot and seriously wounded near the Palestinian village of Beit Anon north of Hebron, the army and medics said.

The shootings followed a string of incidents earlier in the day.

In the first, an elderly Palestinian woman was accused of attempting to ram Israeli soldiers with a car in Hebron and was shot dead by troops, the Israeli army said.

Palestinian medics said the alleged assailant was 72-year-old Sharwat Sharawi, adding that she was driving in pouring rain at the time. They alleged she did not intend to attack the soldiers.

Shortly afterwards, a Palestinian stabbed and seriously wounded an Israeli at a West Bank settlement north of Jerusalem around the Shaar Binyamin industrial zone, the army said, adding that the assailant fled.

Later in the Gaza Strip, 23-year-old Salame Abu Jamaa was shot dead by Israeli security forces in clashes near the border with Israel, the enclave’s health ministry said.

Living in fear

The violence since October 1 has seen more than 70 Palestinians—around half of them alleged attackers—an Arab-Israeli and nine Israelis killed.

Every Friday in recent weeks, Palestinian movements have called for protests across the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Near the Israeli settlement of Psagot, close to the West Bank city of Ramallah, youths and soldiers clashed in a residential area during a torrential downpour.

The army fired live ammunition in the air, while using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Security forces also harassed journalists, throwing stun grenades and pointing guns toward them while shouting insults.

A woman who ran to take refuge in her house—one of whose windows had been smashed by what she said was an Israeli tear gas grenade—told AFP she had not slept for days. 

“My children are living in fear. We hear the bullets flying day and night,” she said, without wanting to give her name.

In Hebron, a further 15 Palestinians were wounded in clashes, one of them seriously, Palestinian medical sources said, as security forces used live ammunition and tear gas.

The new violence comes with Netanyahu set to fly to Washington for his first meeting with Obama in more than a year.

The centrepiece of the meeting is expected to be defence aid for Israel following the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers, which Netanyahu strongly opposed.

But Obama is also likely to press Netanyahu on renewed peace efforts, though US officials say the president has abandoned hopes of a comprehensive deal being reached before his second term ends in January 2017.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry have travelled to the region in recent weeks to urge calm. — AFP

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