JERUSALEM: Deadly violence between Israel and the Palestinians flared Friday (Saturday in Manila) as a Jewish holy site was torched in the West Bank, prompting a “very concerned” US President Barack Obama to call for calm.
More than two weeks of violence have sparked concerns of a full-scale uprising and Obama called on both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to tamp down inflammatory rhetoric.
The arson attack on Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus came as Palestinians called for a “Friday of revolution” against Israel and as clashes along the border with the Gaza Strip saw Israeli fire kill two Palestinians and wound 98.
Another Palestinian died in clashes in Beit Furik near Nablus, while a Palestinian disguised as a news photographer stabbed and wounded a soldier before being shot dead outside a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
Seven Israelis have been killed and dozens wounded in the violence so far, while 37 Palestinians have died and hundreds more been wounded in clashes.
In the Palestinian uprisings of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, thousands were killed and many more wounded in near-daily violence.
Israeli security forces have deployed massively in Jerusalem after two weeks of attacks in the city and across Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, under pressure over recent comments that some have labeled incitement, quickly condemned the fire at Joseph’s Tomb, which many Jews believe to be the final resting place of the biblical patriarch Joseph.
Muslims believe an Islamic cleric, Sheikh Yussef (Joseph) Dawiqat was buried there two centuries ago.
The shrine is under Palestinian control and off-limits to Israelis except on escorted trips organized by the army.
Video showed what looked like an extensive blaze, and the Israeli army called it “a despicable act” of desecration.
‘Reprehensible attack ‘
Speaking at a news conference in Washington, Obama said “we are very concerned about the outbreak of violence.”
“It’s important for both (Israeli) Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu . . . and President Abbas and other people in positions of power, to try to tamp down rhetoric that may feed violence or anger or misunderstanding,” Obama said.
“Over time, the only way that Israel is going to be truly secure, and the only way the Palestinians will be able to meet the aspirations of their people, is if they are two states living side by side in peace and security.”
But right now, “everybody needs to focus on making sure that innocent people aren’t being killed.”
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms violence directed against innocent people, and believe that Israel has a right to maintain basic law and order and protect its citizens from knife attacks, and violence on the streets,” he added.
Fresh protests erupted Friday after Palestinians torched Joseph’s Tomb, a site revered by Jews in the West Bank city of Nablus.
The arson came as Palestinians called for a “Friday of revolution” against Israel, and police barred men under 40 from attending the main weekly prayers at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, seeking to keep young protesters away.
At least seven Israelis have been killed and dozens wounded in the violence so far, while 37 Palestinians have died and hundreds more been wounded in clashes.
US Secretary of State John Kerry called Netanyahu to discuss “how best to end the recent wave of violence, and to offer US support for efforts to restore calm as soon as possible,” a State Department official said.
Netanyahu and Kerry, who is expected to visit the region soon, are planning to meet in Berlin next week, according to US and Israeli officials, although the exact details have yet to be confirmed.
In New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned Friday’s “reprehensible” attack, at the opening of a Security Council meeting on the violence.