A rash of Palestinian stabbings of Israelis, which continued Thursday with four more attacks, has been the work of lone assailants with no record of arrests or links to Palestinian militant groups, according to police officials.
The copycat attacks, carried out by young Palestinians, mostly in their teens, appear to have been spontaneous acts by individuals, part of a wave of unrest triggered by clashes last month between police and Arab youths at the contested holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
A campaign by Jewish activists backed by rightist politicians to expand the Jewish presence at the site has alarmed Palestinians, who allege that Israeli authorities want to change longstanding arrangements that forbid Jewish prayer in the compound, which contains Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest shrine in Islam.
In a move to defuse tensions, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has banned cabinet ministers from visiting the site and ordered police to keep both Jewish and Arab parliament members away.
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“We don’t need more detonators to ignite the area,” he said at a news conference on Thursday.
Netanyahu has insisted that Israel has no plans to change the status quo in the sacred site, which is supervised by a Jordanian-funded Islamic trust.
Still, Al-Aqsa has become the rallying cry of the current surge of violent Palestinian protests and attacks.
Muhannad Halabi, a 19-year-old law student who fatally stabbed two Orthodox Jews on Saturday in Jerusalem’s Old City, wrote a Facebook post the previous day condemning Israeli measures at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. “I don’t believe that our people will succumb to humiliation,” he wrote. “The people will indeed rise up.”
That stabbing has set off a series of knifings across the country, putting Israelis on edge.
On Thursday, a Palestinian stabbed a female soldier and four other people with a screwdriver near Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv before he was shot and killed by another soldier, police said.
In Jerusalem, a 25-year-old yeshiva student was seriously wounded in a stabbing near a light-rail station between the Jewish and Arab sections of the city.
The 19-year-old attacker was arrested. A police raid on his home in the adjacent Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem was met with stones, firebombs and gunfire, according to accounts by police and witnesses, and a Palestinian was shot and killed.
An Israeli soldier was stabbed by a Palestinian in the northern city of Afula, police said, and the assailant was overpowered by people at the scene. In another knife attack, in the Israeli settlement town of Kiryat Arba near Hebron in the West Bank, a 25-year-old man was seriously wounded, according to the police.
The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, called on local residents with licensed guns to carry them in the streets, and police said that metal detectors had been installed at gates to the Old City.
Netanyahu said the spate of attacks was “unorganized, but all are the result of wild and false incitement” about Israeli intentions at Al-Aqsa.
He said the messages were being spread by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, “some countries in the region” and particularly by the Islamic Movement, an Israeli Arab group that has campaigned vigorously against what it has called Israeli threats to Muslim shrines in Jerusalem.
“The terrorists and the extremist elements behind them will achieve nothing,” Netanyahu said. “We will pursue them and defeat them.”