Israel sets up east Jerusalem checkpoints as violence spikes

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JERUSALEM: Israel set up checkpoints Wednesday in Palestinian neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and mobilised hundreds of soldiers as it struggled to stop attacks that have raised fears of a full-blown uprising.

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Hours after the first roadblocks were erected, two more knife attacks shook Jerusalem, one outside the Old City and another near the crowded central bus station during rush hour.

In his first address since the violence began, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said in televised remarks that he supported “peaceful and popular” struggle against Israel.

The first of Wednesday’s attacks occurred when a man, reportedly a 20-year-old from the West Bank city of Hebron, tried to stab a security guard at an entrance to the Old City but was shot dead before harming anyone.

The other saw a 23-year-old Palestinian stab and moderately wound a woman of around 70 before being shot dead by police.

The attack sparked panic among commuters.

With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under immense pressure to halt the violence and frustrated Palestinian youths defying attempts to restore calm, police said 300 Israeli soldiers were joining their patrols.

The government also announced further drastic measures, including easing firearms laws for Israelis and stripping alleged attackers from east Jerusalem of their residency permits.

In Washington, a spokesman said US Secretary of State John Kerry planned to travel to the Middle East soon to seek a return to calm between the sides.

A wave of mainly stabbing attacks by Palestinians has spread fear in Israel, while a gun-and-knife attack on a Jerusalem bus on Tuesday killed two people and led to outrage among Israelis.

A third Israeli was killed in Jerusalem on Tuesday when a Palestinian attacker rammed his car into pedestrians then exited with a knife, making it the city’s bloodiest day in the current wave of unrest.

All three attackers in the two incidents were from east Jerusalem, and two were shot dead.

‘This is normal’

The move to install checkpoints followed a decision by Netanyahu’s security cabinet overnight authorising police to seal off or impose a curfew on parts of Jerusalem.

The upsurge in violence that began on October 1 has led some to warn of the risk of a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Seven Israelis have been killed and dozens wounded.

At least 30 Palestinians have died, including alleged attackers, some of them teenagers. Hundreds have been wounded in clashes with Israeli security forces.

While the stabbing and gun attacks have fanned Israeli anger and fear, video footage shared online of security forces shooting dead alleged attackers has fed Palestinian anger, with protesters seeing some of the killings as unjustified.

On Wednesday, video purported to be of the attacker being shot while on the ground outside Jerusalem’s Old City spread on the Internet.

At the funeral for 28-year-old Moataz Zawahra, killed the previous day in clashes in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, youths with their faces covered in red keffiyeh headscarves carried his body and called him a “martyr”.

Clashes broke out after the funeral, with youths throwing stones and firebombs and Israeli forces responding with tear gas and rubber bullets — a daily occurrence in parts of the occupied West Bank in the past two weeks.

 ‘I’m very worried’

The number and extent of the checkpoints in east Jerusalem appeared limited Wednesday.

In the neighbourhood of Jabel Mukaber, where Tuesday’s attackers lived, four armed police were seen checking cars leaving the area.

Such checkpoints were used during past spikes in violence, much to the anger of Palestinian residents who consider it collective punishment.

Meanwhile, on the same bus route hit by Tuesday’s attack, a Jewish man who looked to be in his 20s and who declined to give his name displayed a container of pepper spray in his pocket.

“I’m very worried,” he said near the scene of the attack.

The rising tide of violence has seen more than 20 stabbing attacks in addition to protests.

The head of Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, backed the Palestinian unrest which he described as an “intifada”.

In the intifadas of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, hundreds of people were killed in near daily violence.

The latest unrest has led to international calls for calm, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Israel to carry out a review of whether its security forces were resorting to excessive force.

AFP

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