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Amid specter of a third intifada, Israel curbs access to Jerusalem’s Old City

Israeli authorities took the extraordinary step of banning nonresident Palestinians from the Old City of Jerusalem on Sunday as an increase in violence gave rise to concerns that a third intifada, or uprising, may have begun.

Tensions continued to simmer in Jerusalem and the West Bank as two Israeli victims of a stabbing attack were laid to rest and Palestinians clashed with police and soldiers.

Hundreds of Israeli police officers patrolled East Jerusalem and the Old City and clashed with residents throughout the city. The worst violence was in the neighborhood of Issawiya, where a 19-year-old Palestinian was shot and killed by police who suspected him of stabbing an Israeli youth earlier in the day.

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The move to limit entry to the Old City, Jerusalem’s ancient tourist and market hub, was unprecedented and was described as “a drastic measure” by police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. The order barred access on Sunday and Monday — the last two days of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot — to Palestinians who are not residents of the Old City. Israeli citizens, residents, tourists and students were exempt.

Police set up barricades at gates leading to the Old City, a warren of picturesque stone passageways where about 40,000 people live, most of them Palestinians.

Police also barred Muslim men under age 50 from entering the Al Aqsa mosque compound, which has been a center of tension for the last three weeks. Police had entered the compound the night before and removed dozens of Palestinians who were keeping a vigil in the mosque.

Israel captured the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War and later annexed the areas. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of an independent Palestine.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon telephoned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday evening to discuss the latest events. Abbas, according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, urged Ban “to speed up efforts to provide international protection to the Palestinian people before things get out of hand.”

Israeli officials vowed to restore security.

“Our enemies know how to hurt us, but will not defeat us,” said President Reuven Rivlin. “The fight against terrorism requires determination and inner fortitude.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held urgent consultations with army, police and intelligence chiefs upon his return from the United States and was set to convene a security Cabinet meeting Monday evening.

Sultan Abu Einain, a leader in Abbas’ Fatah party, told Palestine TV that the events in the West Bank and Jerusalem “are signs of a third intifada.”

The first intifada broke out in December 1987 and lasted until about 1993, when the Oslo peace process began. The second erupted in September 2000 and lasted until 2005, following Abbas’ election as president of the Palestinian Authority.

Einain’s sentiment was echoed by some Israeli analysts. Writing in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, journalist Nahum Barnea also described the developments as a third intifada.

“It is important to call it by its name,” he wrote.

Two fatal attacks on Jews in recent days have ratcheted up the level of tension.

Two Jewish men, one walking with his wife and infant and the other rushing to his aid, were stabbed to death Saturday in Jerusalem’s Old City, Israeli officials and news reports said.

The suspected killer, a 19-year-old Palestinian law student from the West Bank city of Ramallah, was fatally shot by police.

Earlier in the week, a man and his wife were shot to death on a West Bank road while driving with their four children, who were unharmed.

The Palestinian who was shot by police Sunday was identified as Fadi Elwan. Police said he had a knife and had stabbed and wounded an Israeli youth.

Elwan’s family disputed the police account and said he was going to pray at Al Aqsa mosque when he was chased by a mob of Israelis, prompting him to run toward the police patrol before he was shot several times and killed.

Video clips show Elwan being chased by men who appear to be Orthodox Jews shouting, “Shoot him, shoot him!”

Police later raided Elwan’s home and briefly took his father and uncle into custody for questioning. Clashes broke out throughout the day between residents of the neighborhood and police.

In addition to the violence in Jerusalem, Palestinians clashed with Israeli soldiers and settlers in various areas of the West Bank.

Jewish settlers reportedly attacked a Palestinian home just outside Ramallah late Saturday, prompting clashes with its residents and other Palestinians.

Farther north, an Israeli army unit raided the Jenin refugee camp early Sunday to arrest a Palestinian militant but ended up clashing with residents and destroying the Palestinian’s home without arresting him.

Nader Irsheid, director of the Jenin hospital, said 22 people were brought to his hospital with gunshot wounds, mainly to the lower parts of the body. He said two people with serious injuries were transferred to a hospital in Nablus.

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Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian Authority official in Nablus, said Israeli settlers damaged 200 cars belonging to Palestinians and set fire to several acres of olive groves. Israeli soldiers set up checkpoints around Ramallah and Nablus and nearby villages, causing hours-long delays for motorists.

Israeli Intelligence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Yisrael Katz said in an interview that Israel might be forced to launch another comprehensive military operation in the West Bank, similar to one carried out in 2002 after a wave of suicide bombings.

The attacks on Israelis prompted fierce criticism against Netanyahu from his political opposition, with hawks denouncing him for being lax on Palestinian violence and doves for failing to lead a policy to engage Palestinians.

Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for a halt to the monthly transfer of tax revenue Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority and suggested revoking travel permits for Palestinian officials, as well as imposing the death penalty for Palestinian attackers and demolishing their family’s homes.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called for coupling security measures with diplomatic efforts to harness what he called a “genuine regional desire” for change. “If this government cannot provide security for its citizens it should draw the conclusions,” he said.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan acknowledged security had been undermined by the wave of “popular terrorism” and outlined a list of steps authorities were taking to fight back. Among these, he said, were beefing up police and special units in Jerusalem, increased jail time for perpetrators, changing rules of engagement in firebomb and rock attacks and extensive army activity against Palestinian suspects.

However, Erdan dismissed the call for renewing the political process with the Palestinians, which he said was a euphemism for capitulation to Palestinian demands. “So far, the diplomatic process has not brought more security, but less,” he told Israel Radio.

The fatal attacks on Israeli civilians drew strong condemnation from the U.S. State Department, which expressed concern over mounting tensions in Jerusalem’s holy sites as well, and called on all sides to “avoid an escalation.”

The European Union too denounced the previous attack and urged a political solution to the conflict.

Special correspondents Abukhater and Sobelman reported from Ramallah and Jerusalem, respectively.

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