A surge of Palestinian unrest punctuated by multiple stabbing attacks across Israel and in the West Bank spread on Friday to the Gaza Strip, where Israeli soldiers fired on crowds of stone-throwing protesters across a border fence, killing six, local health officials said.
The Israeli government has been struggling to quell a rash of seemingly spontaneous knife attacks by lone Palestinian assailants with no record of ties to militant groups.
There were more stabbings in Israel on Friday, including a revenge attack by an Israeli teenager that wounded four Arabs. Street clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops have flared in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, raising fears of a new popular uprising.
The Israeli defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, urged the use of lethal force against Palestinian assailants at a nationally televised news conference Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The proper response, he said, was to “bring about the liquidation of the terrorist stabber or attacker, the stone-thrower and the like, immediately and on the spot.”
On the border with the Gaza Strip on Friday, Israeli forces fired at crowds of young Palestinians who approached the border fence, hours after the Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, declared “the start of a new intifada,” or Palestinian uprising.
“Gaza stands beside the battle in Jerusalem,” Haniyeh said in a mosque sermon during Friday prayers. “Gaza is fully ready.”
The current wave of violence was triggered by clashes last month at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a contested holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
An Israeli army spokeswoman did not explain why troops had not used non-lethal crowd control weapons, such as teargas and rubber bullets.
According to a military statement, about 200 Palestinians hurled rocks and rolled burning tires at the Gaza border fence, and soldiers responded with gunfire at “the main instigators to prevent their advance and disperse the riot.”
Health officials in Gaza said that six Palestinians were killed and dozens more were wounded. Witnesses said the shots were fired by snipers at Israeli guard posts along the border fence, where Israel enforces a 100 meter-wide no-go zone inside the Gaza Strip.
The army statement did not explain why troops did not use non-lethal crowd control weapons, such as teargas and rubber bullets, routinely used by Israeli forces against violent protests in the West Bank. An army statement said that the military considered any breach of an Israeli-enforced buffer zone across the volatile Gaza frontier to be a threat to Israeli civilians and troops.
The spate of Palestinian knifings triggered a revenge attack on Friday in the southern Israeli city of Dimona, where a 17-year-old Israeli went on a stabbing rampage through the streets, wounding two Israeli Arabs and two Palestinian workers, police said. The attacker told police after his arrest that he “thought all Arabs are terrorists,” according to a police spokeswoman.
There were more stabbing attacks on Israelis, with a first reported assault by an Israeli Arab. Police said the woman pulled out a knife and attempted to stab a soldier in the northern city of Afula before she was shot and wounded. It was the second stabbing incident in Afula in as many days.
Arab Israelis have staged sympathy protests with the Palestinians in recent days in several cities in Israel.
In Jerusalem, a Palestinian stabbed and lightly wounded a Jewish teenager, and a police officer was knifed in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, where the Palestinian assailant was killed, police said.
In an effort to suppress the violence, the Israeli government has granted police greater leeway to fire at stone-throwers and revived the policy of punitive house demolition. The homes of families of two slain Palestinians who carried out deadly attacks last year were demolished in East Jerusalem this week.
Greenberg is a McClatchy special correspondent.