Israel began calling up additional police reserves Sunday to deploy in Jerusalem and elsewhere as the latest violent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entered its second week, heightening concerns it would spiral out of control.
A Palestinian woman and her 2-year-old daughter were killed early in the day in the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian medical authorities, when their house collapsed after an Israeli airstrike in response to rocket fire into Israel overnight. Rocket fire has been infrequent since the summer war of 2014 but the rising Palestinian death toll in border clashes of recent days has tested the fragile calm in the coastal enclave.
Palestinian medical sources also reported a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed during clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces near Ramallah.
Also in the West Bank, an Israeli police officer suffered light burns when a Palestinian woman allegedly detonated a bomb at a checkpoint near Maaleh Adumim, east of Jerusalem. Officials said the policeman had flagged down a suspicious car for inspection when the driver detonated a bomb.
Sappers checking the vehicle for further explosives found a gas canister, and police officials speculated that the car was intended to explode in Jerusalem. The driver, later identified as a 31-year-old resident of east Jerusalem, was seriously injured in the blast and taken to a Jerusalem hospital.
Palestinian media disputed the Israeli version, saying the woman was alarmed by an electric short in the car.
To some observers, Sunday’s incident marked a possible step-up in Palestinian actions, which have so far have mostly involved stabbings and other small-scale attacks by individuals and required little or no infrastructure provided by organized militant groups.
Later Sunday, four Israelis were injured, one seriously, in an attack in northern Israel, police said. According to initial reports, the suspect tried to run over a group of pedestrians before stabbing them.
One Israeli, a female soldier, was seriously wounded. Police caught the assailant, identified by Israeli media as an Arab Israeli.
Palestinian protests continued throughout the West Bank on Sunday, erupting into clashes with Israeli troops in areas such as the city of Tul Karem, where Palestinian media reported dozens were injured.
Fierce clashes also broke out near Nablus after Palestinian security services reportedly tried but failed to prevent demonstrators from reaching an Israeli checkpoint. A senior Israeli intelligence representative briefing ministers Sunday said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has instructed security services to prevent violence but that other voices within the Palestinian leadership were fanning the flames.
Tension persisted in Jerusalem as the rash of stabbing attacks continued over the weekend. The municipality called a partial closure of educational facilities throughout the city in a dispute with the government over funding for extra security guards for kindergartens and other schools. Economy Minister Aryeh Deri later signed a one-month permit allowing longer work days for security guards due to the current situation.
After portable metal detectors recently were set up at several entrances to the Old City to screen for particular suspects, police announced Sunday they were considering similar means at the entrances to the Temple Mount compound, which houses the Al Aqsa mosque.
Israeli Arab lawmakers called off a planned visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque on Sunday, moving it to later in the week. The high-profile visit was announced last week in defiance of a controversial directive issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bar both Jewish and Arab public officials from the mosque and Temple Mount compound, which has been a focus of the continued tension among Palestinians angered by what they see as Israeli limits on their access to the site.
“We are in the midst of a wave of terrorism originating from systematic and mendacious incitement regarding the Temple Mount,” Netanyahu told the cabinet convened for its weekly meeting.
In addition to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, Netanyahu also accused Israel’s Islamic Movement, which advocates for Islam among Israel Arab citizens, of responsibility and said the government would advance action against the movement, which includes a radical chapter alongside a moderate branch.
Netanyahu also instructed the attorney general to open a criminal investigation against Hanin Zoabi, a firebrand Arab Israeli member of parliament, for comments made over the weekend calling for a real intifada over an alleged Israeli “plot for the blood” of east Jerusalem’s Palestinians.
“We will not tolerate internal incitement,” the prime minister said.
Meanwhile, the cabinet also approved Netanyahu’s proposal to impose minimum prison sentences for those convicted of throwing rocks, firebombs and firecrackers, as well as fining minors and their parents.
The latter measure highlights a characteristic of the ongoing unrest in Jerusalem: Among 300 Palestinians arrested in the last two weeks for involvement in rioting, about 45% of them have been under the age of 18, adding legal challenges to the situation.
Netanyahu’s comments Sunday incensed Arab Israeli lawmakers. A statement from Ahmed Tibi accused the prime minister of pouring oil onto the fire by toughening punishment of Palestinian minors on top of a recent easing of regulations on police use of weapons that led to a “wild west and execution of Arabs on the streets.”
Countering Netanyahu’s charge of Palestinian incitement, Tibi said Israel’s policies and the “injustices of the occupation” were the drive for Palestinian rage.
Israeli Arabs are increasingly involved in protests in both solidarity with Palestinians and protest of government policies toward the minority that makes up more than 20% of the country’s citizens. They have called a general strike for Tuesday.
Also expected Tuesday is an emergency meeting of the Arab League. According to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, the Palestinian Authority called for the meeting due to Israel’s “escalated violence against the Palestinian people” and in particular what it called Israeli “assaults” against Al Aqsa.
Sobelman is a special correspondent.