• Israelis mark Passover with boosted security after bus bomb

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    JERUSALEM: Israelis began marking the Jewish Passover holiday on Friday with increased security after a bus bombing this week wounded 20 people and threatened to reverse a decline in attacks.

    The bomb exploded aboard a bus in a relatively isolated area of southern Jerusalem on Monday, with the Hamas-affiliated bomber later dying.

    Israeli authorities called it a suicide bombing, the first since a wave of violence began last October.

    Violence since then has killed 28 Israelis and 201 Palestinians. The majority of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities.

    However the violence had appeared to subside in the weeks before Monday’s bus blast.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted on April 10 there has been a “significant decline in the scope of terrorist attacks”.

    Authorities have increased security in Jerusalem for the eight-day Passover festival, during which thousands of Jews come to the city to celebrate.

    Israeli lawmakers and ministers have been temporarily banned from the highly sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, to avoid provoking tensions.

    Israel has also closed off all crossing points between the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip to Israeli territory for Friday and Saturday.

    Israelis and Palestinians have questioned whether the bus attack will reignite the violence or prove to be an aberration.

    Israeli officials argue that their efforts have helped to reduce the level of violence since the early days of October.

    An Israeli military official said the violence had at one point evolved from mostly lone wolf operations into what seemed to be “revenge” attacks, with small cells that sometimes used improvised guns, before the recent decline.

    Many of the attackers have been young people, including teenagers.

    Intelligence has focused on trying to find potential attackers beforehand, including monitoring social media and speaking to parents when there is reason to think someone could turn violent, the official said.

    ‘Mass understanding’

    Israeli officials say that it is nearly impossible to stop lone-wolf attacks which require little pre-planning.

    The majority of the attacks have been stabbings in what some analysts call de-facto suicide missions.

    Many analysts say Palestinian frustration with Israeli occupation and settlement building in the West Bank, the complete lack of progress in peace efforts and their own fractured leadership have fed the recent unrest.

    Israel blames incitement by Palestinian leaders and media as a main cause of the violence.

    Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has repeatedly called for non-violent resistance, but critics say the 81-year-old has little influence over the young people committing the attacks.

    Diana Buttu, a former spokeswoman for the Palestinian Authority but now a prominent critic, said Abbas shares in the blame for failing to offer hope to young Palestinians.

    “There hasn’t been any leadership on the Palestinian side to turn this into something formidable that can lead to real change,” she said.

    Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and few Palestinians, she said, are optimistic that the situation will change in the near future.

    “I don’t think there was ever mass support (for the attacks). I think there was mass understanding,” she said. “But also a sense of sadness because these are young people who are losing their lives without any optimism it is going to lead to anything.”

    The Israeli military official said he believed around 80 percent of the attackers “wanted to die” because of a combination of personal issues and other factors.

    He said that when the pattern became clear, military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot said “they come to get killed. Don’t kill them” when other methods can be employed.

    But the message was difficult to implement because combat soldiers are “trained to engage and kill the enemy”, the official said.

    Israeli forces have been accused of using excessive force in some cases, which they firmly deny.

    Israeli far-right politicians have pushed for a harsh response to the attacks and have defended the killings of assailants. Netanyahu has come under heavy political pressure over the violence. AFP

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