Israeli police bar Palestinians from Jerusalem’s Old City
Security measure a response to spate of attacks, which also killed Israeli-Canadian man
JERUSALEM— A series of grisly Palestinian attacks that killed several Israeli civilians has prompted the government to take unprecedented security measures amid growing public debate over whether the spectre of another Palestinian intifada, or uprising, is on the horizon.
Israel’s prime minister vowed a “harsh offensive” to counter rising violence that has focused in recent weeks over Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site sacred to both Muslims and Jews, in a series of so-called “lone wolf ” Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
On Sunday, Israel announced that Palestinians would be temporarily barred from Jerusalem’s Old City, the first time Israel has taken this step since it captured the Old City in the 1967 Mideast War.
The latest spike in violence comes at a time when many Palestinians no longer believe statehood through negotiations with Israel is possible. Israeli commentators have raised the possibility of a third uprising, though Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has so far prevented major outbreaks of violence despite his growing friction with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel’s leading news commentator, Nahum Barnea, called the recent violence the “Third Intifada,” referring to Palestinian uprisings in the 1980s and the early 2000s. “Not calling it by name allows the political and military establishment to evade, repress, shirk responsibility,” Barnea wrote in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.
But Hani al-Masri, a Palestinian political analyst, said it was not likely the start of a new uprising. “Intifada needs a leadership and the Palestinian political leadership is against it,” he said.
Netanyahu convened an emergency meeting of top security officials as soon as he returned to Israel Sunday afternoon from the United States. He reportedly asked the meeting if a third intifada is under way and was answered in the negative.
After the meeting Netanyahu said he ordered “additional steps to deter terror and punish terrorists.”
He said that includes “fast-tracking the razing of terrorists homes,” beefing up security in Jerusalem and the West Bank and “banning those that incite (to violence) from the Old City and the Temple Mount.”
A Palestinian teenager stabbed and moderately wounded a 15-year-old Israeli early Sunday in Jerusalem before being shot dead by an Israeli officer. Relatives identified the teen as Fadi Alloun, 19. A day earlier he wrote on his Facebook page: “Either martyrdom or victory.”
Just hours earlier on Saturday night, a Palestinian, Muhannad Halabi, attacked a family as they walked in the old city, killing the father, an Israeli-Canadian, seriously wounding the mother and lightly injuring their 2-year-old before proceeding to stab another Israeli man to death. The 19-year-old wrote on Facebook before the attack: “What’s happening to our holy places? What’s happening to our mothers and sisters in the Al-Aqsa mosque? We are not the people who accept humiliation. Our people will revolt.”
Adele Banita, whose husband, Aaron Bennett, was killed and her 2- year-old child wounded in that attack, described the horrific assault.
She told Israeli media that she felt something in her back and then saw the Palestinian assailant stabbing her husband before turning round to stab her again. “There were lots of Arabs around looking . . . laughing and smiling,” she said.
After she tried to help her husband she said she ran for help. Palestinian onlookers “spat at me and slapped me in the face. While the knife was still stuck in me they slapped me and laughed at me.”
She said she pleaded with them to help her 2-year-old child and was told by the onlookers to “die.”
The stabbings were the latest in a series of deadly Palestinian attacks. On Thursday, suspected Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli couple in front of their children as they drove in the West Bank.
An Israeli died when his car was pelted with stones last month and there have been numerous incidents of Palestinians attacking Israelis and throwing stones at passing vehicles.
Much of the recent violence has stemmed from tensions at the sacred hilltop compound, a frequent flash- point and its fate is a core issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, site of the two biblical Jewish temples. Muslims revere it as the Noble Sanctuary, where they believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
There have been several days of clashes at the site over the past few weeks as Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa mosque while hurling stones, firebombs and fireworks at police. The unrest then spread to Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem and to the West Bank.
In response to the recent violence, Israeli police said they would prevent Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from entering the Old City for two days during a Jewish holiday. Palestinians who live, work and study within the Old City, as well as Israelis and tourists, will be allowed in.
Israel captured the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war from Jordan, and later annexed the areas. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their hopedfor independent state.
Friends and relatives mourn over the body of Aaron Bennett, a 24-year-old Israeli-Canadian soldier who was killed when a knife-wielding Palestinian attacked him and his family in Jerusalem’s Old City.