Fears of new intifada: Israel is hit by wave of Palestinian violence linked to concerns over al-Aqsa mosque

As tensions increase, fuelled by alarm over al-Asqua mosque and the killing by police of a young Arab man, attacks  are reported in Tel Aviv and a West Bank settlement

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The Independent Online

Fears were mounting last night that Israel may be facing a new Palestinian uprising on multiple fronts after violent attacks by individual Palestinians in Tel Aviv and near a West Bank settlement. Tensions also remained high in Arab areas in northern Israel, and Jerusalem.

A Palestinian from the West Bank stabbed and critically wounded a soldier near a Tel Aviv railway station and fled, before being captured by police, Tel Aviv police chief Bentsi Sau said. “He stabbed him a number of times and tried to grab his weapon. Two citizens came to help the soldier.” Hours later, a Palestinian tried to run over pedestrians at a hitchhiking post near the entrance to the Alon Shvut settlement in the occupied West Bank.

He then got out of his car and stabbed three of them, media reports said. A 25-year-old woman was killed and a nearby security guard shot and seriously wounded the assailant, the reports added.

The violence was triggered largely by a Palestinian perception of an Israeli threat to al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest shrine. Right-wing politicians have been increasingly vocal about asserting perceived Jewish rights to pray at the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and considered Judaism’s most sacred spot.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that there will be no such change have not calmed the passions of  Palestinians who cite provocative statements and actions by members of his party and government.

Monday’s attacks come just days after a Palestinian driver ran over pedestrians at a Jerusalem railway station, killing two of them a week after a similar attack in Jerusalem killed two people, including a three-month-old baby.

The wave of violence does not yet feature the use of explosives – a feature of the second intifada uprising in 2000. It also appears to be unorganised and at the initiative of individual Palestinians. But it has shaken Israelis’ sense of security and the Minister of Public Security, Yitzhak Aharonovich, was heckled with cries of “where is the security?” and “death to the terrorists” when he appeared at the site of the Tel Aviv attack.

Meanwhile, a new front of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to be opening up in Arab areas in northern Israel, where anger over the police’s killing of a young man is fuelling violent protests and threatening to explode the always sensitive relations between Israel’s Jewish majority and its Arab minority citizens.

On Monday, a Jewish motorist, Moshe German told reporters how he narrowly escaped death after he drove into the Arab town of Taibe on Sunday during a protest against the young man’s killing. He was pelted with stones and had his vehicle set on fire.

Until about midnight on Sunday, youths in Kafr Cana, where the young man was killed, burnt tyres and threw stones and fireworks at police who responded with tear gas, residents said.

The Tel Aviv attack would have been worse had a passing motorist not got out of his car, and struck the assailant in the face. “I saw him stabbing the youth and I boxed him in the face,” said Gilad Goldman. “He dropped his knife and started to run away.”

Menachem Klein, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said: “I define what is happening as a third intifada [uprising], one that is different from the first and second. The focus is Jerusalem, with no central command and no political leadership. It is an intifada because it expresses popular rejection by violence of Israeli rule.”

Reacting to the Tel Aviv attack, Mr Netanyahu, said: “The terrorists want to drive us out from here. I promise they will not succeed. We will fight the incitement of the Palestinian Authority and we will act with determination against the rioters calling for Israel’s destruction.” He vowed the government would pass new laws to deal with the violence and called for the “destruction of the homes of terrorists”.

Onlookers stand at the scene of a stabbing in Tel Aviv

Hanan Ashrawi, the PLO spokeswoman, said of yesterday’s violence: “People are beginning to be provoked beyond endurance. We’ve been against violence from the beginning but Israel seems to think it’s a one-way street, that they can do it against Palestinians with impunity and if any Palestinian responds in the same way it’s called terrorism.”

In Arab areas inside Israel, the rage over the shooting of the young man, Kheir al-Din Hamdan, 22, is still boiling. Police originally said he was shot while trying to stab officers and that warning shots had been fired. A video of the incident shows him banging four times on the windows of a police van while he appears to be holding an object.

A policeman gets out of the van and points his gun at Mr Hamdan, while the latter is moving away from him. In the video it looks like Mr Hamdan was shot by that same policeman but the Haaretz newspaper reported today that he was probably shot by another policeman, the driver of the van.

At the house of the dead youth on Sunday mourners recited the opening verse of the Koran which speaks of God’s mercy and compassion. “We think as citizens of this country that the police must protect us, not kill our sons,” said Rafea Amara, a cousin of Mr Hamdan.

Mr Aharonovich yesterday backed his officers, saying: “Only two days ago we were shocked to see a demonstrator armed with a knife threatening the lives of police. They felt threatened and were forced to respond with live fire and hit him.”

Rauf Hamdan, the father of the dead youth, told The Independent that he wants Israel’s Supreme Court to try the policemen. “I want the judges to see the video with their own eyes, that they killed him in cold blood.”