Death toll climbs as Palestinian unrest spirals

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians threatened to spiral out of control Saturday with two more Palestinians killed in Gaza, two stabbings outside Jerusalem’s Old City and more West Bank clashes.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and president Mahmud Abbas have sought to avoid an escalation, frustrated Palestinian youths have defied efforts to restore calm and a wave of stabbings has spread fear in Israel.

A rocket fired by Gaza militants hit southern Israel on Saturday hours after clashes along the border saw Israeli forces kill seven Palestinians.

More clashes on Saturday killed another two Palestinians.

The rocket, for which there was no immediate claim of responsibility, caused no casualties. Israel regularly responds to rocket fire with air strikes, but had not done so by Saturday evening.

Rioting has shaken annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, with Palestinians throwing stones and firebombs at Israeli security forces, who have responded with live fire, rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades.

A 22-year-old Palestinian Israeli police said they shot late Friday after he opened fire at them in east Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp died on Saturday.

Clashes erupted after his funeral, and one Palestinian who tried to throw a firebomb at security forces was shot in the leg, police said.

– New Gaza clashes –

The Gaza Strip had been mainly calm amid the week’s unrest elsewhere, but clashes on Friday and Saturday exacerbated fears that a wider Palestinian uprising, or intifada, could erupt.

On Friday, the army said there had been repeated attempts to storm the border fence between Gaza and Israel and that 1,000 rioters had infiltrated the buffer zone, throwing a grenade, rocks and rolling burning tyres at troops.

After warning shots, troops fired “towards main instigators in order to prevent their advance and disperse the riot”, a statement said.

Seven Palestinians were killed, including a 15-year-old, and 145 wounded, medics said.

Following Saturday’s funeral of one of those killed, hundreds of young Palestinians approached the border with Israel and began demonstrating.

At one point, unarmed Hamas security forces in civilian clothes dispersed demonstrators peacefully, witnesses said.

However, clashes also broke out east of the southern city of Khan Yunis along the border fence, with a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old killed and 10 wounded by Israeli fire.

Friday was the worst day of violence in the Palestinian enclave since the 2014 summer war with Israel, which killed more than 2,200 and left 100,000 homeless.

The clashes came as Hamas’s chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, called the overall violence an intifada and urged further unrest.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, remains deeply divided from Abbas’s West Bank-based Fatah.

On Saturday, Jordan’s parliament condemned “the crimes committed by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza”, accusing Israel of “state terrorism”.

Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab countries to have peace treaties with Israel.

Rioting hit various parts of the West Bank on Saturday, including Hebron, where youths clashed with Israeli forces after funerals of two residents killed while carrying out separate attacks earlier this week.

– Two more stabbings –

Stabbing attacks that have spread fear among Israelis also continued.

On Saturday morning, a Palestinian teenager stabbed and wounded two ultra-Orthodox Jews, aged 62 and 65, outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem, police and medics said.

Police said they shot and killed the 16-year-old identified as Ishak Badran of Kafr Aqeb in east Jerusalem.

Hours later in the same area, a 19-year-old Palestinian also from Kafr Aqeb stabbed two police officers before himself being shot dead.

The stabbing victims were in moderate condition, medics said, with a third seriously wounded after being shot by another officer trying to target the assailant.

Fourteen stabbing attacks have targeted Jews since October 3, when a Palestinian murdered two Israelis in Jerusalem’s Old City, sparking a security crackdown.

One revenge stabbing has occurred, with a 17-year-old Jew in the southern Israeli city of Dimona wounding two Palestinians and two Arab Israelis on Friday.

Netanyahu quickly condemned that attack, a sign of concerns that it could trigger further violence.

Abbas has spoken out against violence and in favour of “peaceful, popular resistance”, but many Palestinian youths are frustrated with his leadership.

Israeli police have struggled to prevent demonstrations among the country’s Arab population from deteriorating into violence.

About 1,500 people reportedly demonstrated in northern city Nazareth on Saturday. Police said dozens of youths set alight rubbish bins and threw stones at security forces.

Police also detained five Jews from the northern coastal city of Netanya who chanted “Death to Arabs” during a clash with Arabs from nearby town of Taibe on Thursday.


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