Israelis arm themselves as knife attacks continue despite heavy security

Israeli special forces walk out of the Central Jerusalem Bus Station after police said a woman was stabbed by a Palestinian there, on Oct 14, 2015.
Israeli special forces walk out of the Central Jerusalem Bus Station after police said a woman was stabbed by a Palestinian there, on Oct 14, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Jews armed themselves with everything from guns to broomsticks after more stabbings shook Jerusalem, the latest in a wave of Palestinian knife attacks, even as security forces were deployed to Israeli cities on Thursday (Oct 15).

Some 300 Israeli soldiers were reinforcing police, stretched thin by an upsurge in violence that began at the start of the month and which has raised fears of a full-scale uprising, or third Palestinian intifada.

It was not clear whether troops were on the ground yet.

The last time soldiers deployed in large numbers in Israeli cities was in an operation during the second Palestinian intifada in 2002, according to a security source.

Beyond the attacks, violent protests have erupted in annexed east Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Seven Israelis have been killed and dozens wounded, while at least 30 Palestinians have died, including alleged attackers. Hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded in clashes with Israeli security forces.

In the first two Palestinian intifadas of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, hundreds of people were killed in near daily violence.

Israel's best-selling newspaper was filled on Thursday (Oct 15) with photos of Jews arming themselves with tear gas spray, broomsticks and rolling pins, while gun sellers said demand had skyrocketed.

With fears mounting among Jews at home and in public places, police said soldiers on a train around the northern city of Haifa believed they had seen a suspicious person and began to shout "terrorist".

An officer sitting in the front carriage fired a single shot in the air and someone later pulled the emergency brake. No suspect was found and no one was hurt.

"There is really a wave of terror," Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon told army radio, "the characteristics of which are that civilians are in the front line, at very short range as a consequence of the fact that the main weapon is the knife, occasionally also firearms."

On Wednesday, police began setting up checkpoints in parts of east Jerusalem, including at a neighbourhood that was home to three Palestinians who carried out gun, knife and car-ramming attacks in Jerusalem this week.

The move to install checkpoints followed a decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet authorising police to seal off or impose a curfew on parts of Jerusalem.

STABBINGS DEFY SECURITY CRACKDOWN

Despite the new security measures, there were two more stabbing attacks in Jerusalem on Wednesday (Oct 14), one outside the Old City when a 20-year-old Palestinian tried to stab a security guard and was shot dead.

The other saw a 23-year-old Palestinian stab and wound a woman of around 70 near the crowded central bus station during rush hour before being shot dead by police, sparking panic among commuters.

Mr Netanyahu has come under immense pressure to halt the violence, but frustrated Palestinian youths have defied attempts to restore calm.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas again called for peaceful resistance on Wednesday (Oct 14) night, but young Palestinians fed up with Israel's occupation and the lack of progress in peace efforts have grown tired of his leadership.

The attackers seem to be mostly acting on their own, posing a major challenge to security forces, with no mastermind to pursue.

While the stabbings and gun attacks have fanned Israeli anger and fear, video footage shared online of security forces shooting dead alleged assailants has fed Palestinian anger, with protesters seeing some of the killings as unjustified.

On Wednesday (Oct 14), a video purported to be of an attacker being shot while on the ground outside Jerusalem's Old City spread on the Internet.

US Secretary of State John Kerry plans to travel to the region "soon" to call for calm, his spokesman said.

Asked about media reports that Mr Kerry hopes to host talks between Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas in Jordan, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said he had "nothing to report on the press reports you have seen with respect to that".

The violence began on Oct 1, when a suspected cell of the Islamist movement Hamas shot dead a Jewish settler couple in the West Bank in front of their children.

Those killings followed repeated clashes at east Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in September between Israeli forces and Palestinian youths.