HEBRON, West Bank, Oct 16, (AP): A Palestinian man wearing a yellow “press” vest stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron on Friday before being shot dead by troops, the latest in a monthlong spate of attacks. In Nablus, another West Bank city, Palestinians firebombed a site revered by some Jews as the tomb of the biblical figure Joseph. Flames blackened exterior walls of the small stone structure, a frequent site of Israeli-Palestinian clashes in the past. In the past month, eight Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks, most of them stabbings. During the same period, 33 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire — 15 labeled by Israel as attackers, and the others in clashes between stone-throwers and Israeli troops.
Many of the Palestinian assailants have come from east Jerusalem, the sector of the city captured by Israeli in 1967 and sought by the Palestinians as a future capital. The recent attacks have largely been carried out by individuals with no ties to militant groups. In response, Israel has taken unprecedented measures, including setting up checkpoints in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem this week despite Israel’s longstanding assertion that the city is united. In one area, men passing through a checkpoint Friday said they lined up and were ordered by troops to lift their hands and shirts to show they were unarmed before being allowed to pass. Israel also imposed restrictions on Muslim worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site in Jerusalem’s walled Old City. Men under 40 were barred from the shrine, and hundreds of young worshippers spread out prayer mats on streets leading to the Old City.
The Muslim-run shrine, also revered by Jews as the holiest site of their religion, has been at the root of recent tensions. Palestinian and Muslim leaders have alleged Israel is attempting to change longstanding arrangements that bar Jews from praying on the hilltop compound, a claim denied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, several senior members of Netanyahu’s coalition have called for Jewish prayer rights at the site, once home to biblical Jewish Temples. The widespread perception among Palestinians that Al-Aqsa is under threat from Israel has fomented tensions and violence.
On Friday, a Palestinian man wearing a vest with the words “press” written on it stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier near a Palestinian protest after Muslim prayers. The Israeli military said the soldier was moderately wounded and that the assailant was shot dead by other troops. Palestinians set fire to a Jewish shrine in the West Bank on Friday as the Islamist group Hamas called for a day of rage against Israel, with tensions still running high after two weeks of violence.
Israel’s military said about 100 people converged on the tomb of the biblical patriarch Joseph, which is located in the Palestinian city of Nablus. They were pushed back by Palestinian security forces who arrived on site, but not before setting parts of it ablaze. “We view this incident with gravity and strongly condemn any attack on holy sites. We will find and arrest those who set the fire,” the military said in a statement. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in his clearest call yet to end the renewed violence, condemned the attack. He ordered the damage to be repaired and opened an investigation into the arson. A statement from his office said Abbas “stressed his rejection of these actions and all actions that violate law and order, and which distort our culture, our morals and our religion.”
The unrest that has engulfed Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, the most serious in years, has claimed the lives of 33 Palestinians and seven Israelis. The Palestinian dead include 10 knifewielding assailants, police said, as well as children and protesters shot during violent demonstrations. One man died in Gaza on Friday from wounds sustained in a clash a week ago.
The Israelis were killed in random attacks in the street or on buses. There was, however, a respite from the near-daily attacks on Thursday. The UN Security Council will hold a special meeting to discuss the situation. No resolution is planned for Friday, but there might be an attempt to get the council to issue a statement aimed at urging the two sides to curb the violence. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, called for “rallies of anger and confrontations” on Friday in all West Bank cities. The unrest has been triggered in part by Palestinians’ anger over what they see as increased Jewish encroachment on Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is also revered by Jews as the location of two destroyed biblical Jewish temples. The director-general of Israel’s foreign ministry, Dore Gold, said: “The burning of Joseph’s tomb forcefully demonstrates what would happen in the holy places in Jerusalem if they were in the hands of the Palestinian leadership.”