Israeli forces on high alert amid some of worst clashes in years
JERSUALEM» Israel’s military fortified its troops in the West Bank and placed forces on high alert Saturday, a day after a Palestinian stabbed to death three members of an Israeli family and some of the worst Israeli-palestinian clashes in years erupted over tensions at the Holy Land’s most contested shrine.
After a relatively quiet day, violence resumed late Saturday near the epicenter of the current crisis in the Old City of Jerusalem. After hundreds of Muslim worshippers defiantly held their evening prayers outside the Jerusalem holy site — known to Muslims as the Haram al-sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as the Temple Mount — resuming their protest against security measures Israel imposed after a deadly attack there, clashes unfolded with police firing tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters.
No injuries were reported, but one Palestinian was killed in uncertain circumstances in other low-level clashes that took place throughout the day, including in the West Bank village of the 20-year-old Palestinian assailant who carried out the grisly stabbing spree. His father said he believes his son was motivated by a desire to protect the “honor” of the Jerusalem holy site.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited the site of the attack, the Israeli settlement of Halamish, and consulted with top commanders.
Lieberman said the attacker’s home would be demolished swiftly and called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to condemn what he called a “slaughter.”
Disputes over the shrine, revered by Muslims and Jews, have set off major rounds of Israeli-palestinian confrontations before. They were also at the root of the current violence which began last week when Arab gunmen fired from the shrine, killing two Israeli policemen.
In response, Israel installed metal detectors at the gates of the 37-acre walled compound, saying the devices were a needed security measure to prevent more attacks and were deployed routinely at holy sites around the world.
Muslims allege Israel was trying to expand its control at the Muslim-administered site under the guise of security — a claim Israel denies — and launched mass prayer protests.
On Friday, tensions boiled over and several thousand Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces in the West Bank and in Jerusalem after noon prayers — the centerpiece of the Muslim religious week. Three Palestinians were killed and several dozen wounded in some of the worst street clashes in two years.
Late Friday evening, a Palestinian identified as Omar al-abed jumped over the fence of the Halamish settlement and entered a home, surprising a family that was celebrating the birth of a new grandchild during their Sabbath dinner.
The Israeli military said the assailant killed a man and two of his adult children, while his wife was badly wounded.
Their daughter-in-law hid in a separate room, sheltering her young children. A neighbor, an off-duty soldier, heard the screams, rushed to the home and opened fire, wounding alabed who was taken to an Israeli hospital, said the head of Israel’s rescue service.
Itai Orayon, a medic, said he found “blood everywhere” in the house.
He told Israel’s Army Radio that three people were on the floor, unconscious “with deep stab wounds all over their bodies,” and that the medical team was unable to save them.
TV footage showed the floor tiles drenched in blood. The victims have yet to be named.
On Saturday morning, Israeli troops searched the assailant’s family home in the West Bank village of Kobar and detained one of his brothers, the army said. Video footage released by the military shows soldiers leading away a handcuffed and blindfolded man.