Palestinian Rams Crowd Amid Spiraling Jerusalem Violence

Palestinians targeted Israeli security forces in two hit-and-run car attacks amid escalating violence that’s focused in the contested city of Jerusalem.

A policeman was killed yesterday and 13 people were injured when a driver rammed his vehicle into pedestrians inside the city, then attacked bystanders with a metal rod, police said. Later, three soldiers were injured when a car ran into them near a West Bank settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, the army said.

Hamas, the militant movement that rules the Gaza Strip, claimed responsibility for the first attack, and police identified the attacker as a member of the group. The attack on soldiers took place between Hebron and Gush Etzion.

Palestinian rage has erupted after Israel temporarily closed the Temple Mount, a sacred site to both Jews and Muslims, in response to Arab youths throwing stones at visitors. Tensions in Jerusalem have increased in recent months, spurred by the killing of Jewish and Arab teenagers, the 50-day conflict in Gaza, and Israeli settlement plans.

Clashes broke out again there yesterday, as Palestinians hurled stones and Israeli police briefly shut down access to the hilltop site, that’s home to Islam’s third holiest site, the al-Aqsa Mosque. Last week, similar restrictions were imposed and a Palestinian shot and injured a leading advocate for Jewish rights to pray on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site.

Violence Flares

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, of inciting violence by urging Palestinians to stop Jews from visiting the Temple Mount. He vowed to respond “with an iron fist” against any attempt to destabilize Jerusalem and held a late night security meeting.

Palestinians cite other grievances including Israeli plans to build 1,000 more homes in east Jerusalem, which they claim as their capital. Israel has defended its right to build anywhere in the city, and says recent unrest is the work of Islamist extremists.

Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza and is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., Israel and the European Union, said yesterday’s attack was intended to avenge Palestinian deaths and alleged Israeli “violations” on the mosque compound.

Propaganda Tool

“Hamas wants to turn Jerusalem into a regional issue through an intifada or something close to this, to bring the Palestinian issue back into the heart of the regional agenda,” said Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University. “Al-Aqsa is a huge propaganda tool.”

A poll by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion that surveyed 1,000 adult Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza over Oct. 15 to 28 found that 50 percent anticipate a violent confrontation with Israel as a result of the escalation in Jerusalem. The survey had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

“Jerusalem residents are under severe pressure from the Israeli government and these attacks are to be expected,” said Ahmed Rafiq Awad, a political scientist at Al Quds University. “The Palestinian leadership doesn’t want an escalation, but the decision is not in the hands of the leadership, the people will decide.”

‘Combustible’ Situation

Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rudeina said the Palestinian Authority would ask the United Nations Security Council to meet to discuss what he called Israeli aggression toward the Al-Aqsa mosque. Jordan recalled its ambassador, citing an “unprecedented Israeli escalation” at the site.

Jordanian Minister of Religious Affairs Hayel Daoud warned on Voice of Palestine that Israel’s policies “will lead to an explosion.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the Jerusalem attack and said he was also “deeply disturbed” by reports of damage to religious monuments in the city. “All sides need to draw back,” he said before meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Paris, according to an e-mailed statement from the State Department.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat urged residents of the city to continue with their normal lives. Police said they would boost security in the city and began planting concrete barriers alongside train platforms.

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