JERUSALEM, Oct 15, (Agencies): Israeli security forces deployed massively in Jerusalem Thursday as Jews armed themselves with everything from guns to broomsticks, rattled by a wave of Palestinian attacks that have shaken the country. Some 300 soldiers were reinforcing police, stretched thin by a two-week upsurge in violence that has raised fears that a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, might erupt. It was not clear whether the troops were in place yet.
The last time soldiers deployed in large numbers was in 2002, during the second intifada, according to a security source.
In addition to the attacks, violent protests have rocked annexed east Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Seven Israelis have been killed and dozens wounded. At least 30 Palestinians have also died, including alleged attackers, and hundreds more been wounded in clashes with Israeli forces.
In the first two intifadas, in 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, hundreds of people were killed and many more hurt in near daily violence. Israel’s best-selling newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, was full of photos Thursday of Jews arming themselves with even broomsticks and rolling pins, as gun sellers said demand had skyrocketed. But other stores are suffering, with shoppers staying off the streets. “Business is at 15 percent of normal,” said Aron Silverberg, who runs a cellphone shop in central Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market.
With fear spreading among Jews, police said soldiers on a train near the northern port of Haifa saw someone they considered suspect and began to shout “terrorist”. An officer sitting in the front carriage fired a single shot in the air and someone later pulled the emergency brake. No suspect was found and no one was hurt. “There is really a wave of terror,” Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon told army radio. He said “civilians are in the front line, at very short range as a consequence of the fact that the main weapon is the knife, occasionally also firearms.” US Secretary of State John Kerry plans to travel to the region “soon” to call for calm, his spokesman said.
The violence began on Oct 1, when a suspected cell of the Islamist movement Hamas murdered a Jewish settler couple in the West Bank in front of their children. Those killings followed repeated clashes at east Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al- Aqsa mosque compound in September between Israeli forces and Palestinian youths. Meanwhile, the Palestinian president ignited an uproar in Israel on Thursday after falsely claiming that Israel had “executed” a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who is recovering in an Israeli hospital, drawing new accusations that he was inciting violence at a time of heightened tensions.
The boy, who was run over by an Israeli vehicle after involvement in the stabbing of an Israeli boy, has become the center of heated, high-level namecalling between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders – reflecting the abyss between them after a month-long spike in deadly violence. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a televised speech late Wednesday that Israel is engaged in the “summary execution of our children in cold blood” and wrongly claimed that the 13-year-old, Ahmed Manasra, was among those killed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly accused Abbas of “lies and incitement.”
The case has become a lightning rod for both sides, as they trade accusations in an increasingly charged atmosphere. Netanyahu has repeatedly alleged that Abbas is inciting Palestinians to violence against Israel, a claim denied by the Palestinian leader.
Abbas says Israel has been using excessive force against Palestinians. In the past month, eight Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks, most of them stabbings. During the same period, 31 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, including 14 identified by Israel as attackers, and the others in clashes between stone-throwers and Israeli troops.
On Monday, Ahmed and his 15-yearold cousin Hassan stabbed and seriously wounded two Israelis, including a 13- year-old boy, in Jerusalem. Hassan was shot dead by police while Ahmed was struck by a car after the attack. Amateur video widely circulated on Palestinian social media sites showed the wounded Ahmed lying on the ground after being struck, his legs splayed and a pool of blood near his head. Bystanders are heard cursing the boy in Hebrew and yelling at him, “Die!” The images, which made no mention of the stabbing, have enraged many Palestinians.