U.N. chief appeals for calm in Israel, but violence flares again

As violence continued to roil the region, United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon arrived in Israel on Tuesday for a flash visit and talks in Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The secretary-general met with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, and was also scheduled to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

In a video message ahead of the trip, Ban expressed sympathy for both Israelis and Palestinians, while calling for an end to violence and urging the leadership of both sides to return to negotiations.

Ban expressed his dismay at the sight of “young people, children, picking up weapons and seeking to kill,” and cautioned that violence would undermine both the “legitimate Palestinian aspirations for statehood and the longing of Israelis for security.”

Addressing young Palestinians, the secretary-general said: “I understand your frustration.” Their hopes for peace, he said, have been “dashed countless times” by Israeli settlements, Palestinian leaders and international failure to end the conflict. However, Ban called on them to “put down the weapons of despair.”

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He also offered understanding for Israelis’ anger. “When anyone on the street is a potential victim, security is rightly your immediate priority,” he said, adding, however, that checkpoints and demolitions would not sustain the peace and safety they need.

The secretary-general’s arrival comes amid a U.N. bid to end the violent eruption that has left nine Israelis dead in Palestinian attacks, as well as an Eritrean asylum seeker who was killed by an Israeli security guard during an attack.

According to the independent Palestinian news agency Maan, at least 45 Palestinians have been killed. About half were shot as they perpetrated attacks or attempted to do so.

His visit also comes ahead of U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s planned meetings later this week with Netanyahu and Abbas, whom he will meet in Germany and Jordan, respectively.

As diplomatic efforts were underway, however, unrest continued throughout the West Bank and Gaza, leaving one Israeli and three Palestinians dead. And Israel announced the arrest of a top founder of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip.

Army spokesman Peter Lerner said Hassan Yousef was taken into custody after "actively instigating and inciting terrorism" by publicly encouraging and praising the attacks against Israelis.

“Hamas' leaders cannot expect to propagate violence and terror from the comfort of their living rooms and pulpits of their mosques,” Lerner said.

A soldier and a civilian were injured in the West Bank area Israelis refer to as Gush Etzyon on Tuesday when a Palestinian driver tried to ram a car into a bus stop and then tried to stab them, the army said. The driver was shot dead by security forces on the site and was not immediately identified.

Another Palestinian was fatally shot near the village of Beit Awa after lightly injuring an Israeli army officer with a knife, according to a statement from the military. The incident reportedly occurred during Palestinian protests the army described as violent.

And a 27-year-old Palestinian man was shot to death, and three others were injured, by Israeli fire during protests in the central Gaza Strip, according to Gaza medical authorities.

Earlier, Avraham Asher Hasano, a 50-year-old man from the settlement of Kiryat Arba, was killed when he was hit by a Palestinian man driving a truck. He had stopped by the side of the road after his car was pelted with rocks. The truck driver, who turned himself in to Palestinian police, told them it was an accident.

The incidents occurred in the general area of Hebron, where Israel’s military demolished the home of Maher al-Hashlamoun overnight. Last November, he rammed a car into a group of Israelis at a bus stop in the West Bank and then stabbed them, killing 25-year-old Dalia Lemkus.

In March he was sentenced to two life terms in prison; the move follows a recent Cabinet directive to step up demolition of Palestinian perpetrators’ homes.

Sobelman is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Rushdi Abu Alouf in the Gaza Strip contributed to this report.

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