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Israeli Soldiers Kill 6 Palestinians in Gaza as West Bank Unrest Grows


JERUSALEM — Israeli soldiers killed six young Palestinians on Friday in the Gaza Strip, including a 15-year-old boy, as they opened fire to quell crowds that hurled rocks and rolled burning tires close to the fence separating Gaza from Israel, Israeli military and Gaza health officials said.

The deadly clash came as the roiling violence and unrest of the past week continued across Israel and the occupied West Bank; there were four more stabbing attacks, including the first by a Jewish Israeli against Arabs, and unruly demonstrations that raged into the night.

The deteriorating landscape presented intense political challenges for both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Neither is ready to make a dramatic diplomatic move that could ease the conflict, yet the spiraling situation tests their ability to maintain control of restive constituencies.

For Mr. Abbas, who has preached nonviolence for his entire tenure, the escalating unrest undermines his credibility with international supporters and benefits his more militant rivals, like the Hamas Islamists, who have egged on the attackers.

Palestinians carried a wounded man during clashes with Israeli soldiers on the Israeli border in Eastern Gaza City on Friday.CreditWissam Nassar for The New York Times

With security increased, Israeli border police told Palestinians on Friday they could not enter the Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem’s Old City.CreditJim Hollander/European Pressphoto Agency

For Mr. Netanyahu, who has made fighting terrorism the centerpiece of his political life and is still reeling from his failure to stop the Iran nuclear deal, the crisis has exacerbated tensions in his narrow, conservative coalition and left many Israelis asking why he cannot keep their streets safe.

“This upsurge represents a rejection of Abbas’s entire strategy that he’s been working on for most of his adult life,” observed Nathan Thrall, an analyst for the International Crisis Group in Jerusalem. He also said the escalation “looks bad for Israel’s image in the world — you see Palestinian protesters against an occupying army,” especially as Mr. Netanyahu prepares to meet with President Obama in a few weeks to repair their tattered relations.

“You are essentially creating new pressure on moving on the Palestinian issue at a time when he is hoping to have a nice, quiet meeting in Washington where they’re compensating him for the Iran deal,” he explained, “and instead he’s going to also have to talk about what he’s going to do to lower the flames.”

Friday was the first time since the latest outbreak began that it spread to the Gaza Strip, after a Facebook page called “Third Intifada” called for people to “prepare your stones, knives and Molotovs” and “head towards” the Israeli military site outside the kibbutz Nahal Oz.

“We will not be silent in front of all what’s happening in the other half of our homeland,” said Fouad Safwat, 26, one of the demonstrators. As the Palestinians rushed toward the barrier separating Gaza from Israel, he said, “the whole area suddenly turned into a real confrontation.” He added, “It was a real intifada.”

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner of the Israeli military said there were more than 1,000 men “attempting multiple times and at multiple locations to storm the border fence throughout the day,” hurling projectiles including a grenade

“Only after firing warning shots in the air did we fire at the main instigators, to get them to stop,” he said.

Four Palestinians were killed there and two others were shot to death farther south, near Khan Younis, according to Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman for the Health Ministry in Gaza. He said 80 people had been injured, at least 11 of them minors, and many shot in the head, neck and chest.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, urged people to join in the expanding confrontation with Israel during his sermon Friday. “Gaza is ready to fight in the battle of Jerusalem,” he said. “The battle of Jerusalem is our battle, and we will not relent to always be in the right place.”

In Israel, after there were seven separate stabbings by Palestinians on Wednesday and Thursday, Friday morning began with a familiar burst of staccato bulletins on a police WhatsApp message group for reporters: A man in the southern city of Dimona attacked a municipal worker. Then three others. With a knife and a screwdriver. And was arrested.

A Palestinian protester hurled some stones at Israeli soldiers on Friday amid the clashes on the Israeli border.CreditWissam Nassar for The New York Times

But this time, the accused assailant was a Jewish resident of the city known to the police, and his victims a Bedouin citizen of Israel and three Palestinians from the West Bank.

Mr. Netanyahu issued a statement saying he “strongly condemns the attack against innocent Arabs,” as did other Jewish leaders, who have criticized their Palestinian counterparts for not denouncing — and sometimes publicly celebrating — stabbings by their people.

Unlike the Palestinian attackers, many of whom were killed or severely injured by security forces — or in one case on Wednesday, a victim who pulled out his personal weapon — the Dimona man was subdued without injury. Later, at the central bus station in the northern town of Afula, an Arab-Israeli woman who tried to stab a security guard was surrounded by police officers who shot and wounded her, prompting outrage from Arab members of Parliament.

“The statements made by Netanyahu and his ministers and the calls to bear arms is tantamount to permission to spill Arabs’ blood,” said one such politician, Basel Ghattas.

Mr. Netanyahu has faced criticism from all corners of the political map. His appeal, during a nationally televised news conference Thursday night, for a national-unity government was roundly rebuffed by Parliament’s opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, who said the prime minister had “lost control over the security of Israel’s citizens.”

At the same time, leaders of West Bank settlements have been camped out at a protest tent outside Mr. Netanyahu’s residence demanding new construction in their communities to punish the Palestinians, something many Israeli security officials say would only further inflame things.

The Jerusalem Post, which leans conservative like Mr. Netanyahu, had on its front page Friday his photo, labeled “Mr. Security” over the query “Is the spate of terrorists attacks denting Netanyahu’s image?” Yossi Verter, the political columnist for the leftist daily Haaretz, said that the prime minister’s “loss of control is evident on both the security and political levels,” and that “what is undoubtedly driving him up the wall is that he has no one on whom to pin the blame.”

Earlier in the week, Sima Kadmon of Yediot Aharonot dismissed Mr. Netanyahu’s reign as “six years of talk; six years of zero action.”

“It truly is a baffling mystery how Netanyahu managed to sell himself as the only person who is capable of delivering security to us,” she wrote, “whereas the reality is that we keep moving from one security failure to the next, from war to uprising, from one threat to the next.”

But Mr. Thrall of the Crisis Group said Mr. Netanyahu’s predicament was preferable to Mr. Abbas’s, because there remains no credible candidate on the Israeli left to challenge him, particularly on security. Mr. Abbas, in contrast, is under pressure from the public and many in his own party, as well as the hard-line factions, to take a stronger stand.

“By definition any upsurge in violence means more power for those who have been quite thoroughly suppressed by Abbas,” Mr. Thrall said. “Most of the fighting against Israel has been driven by Palestinians basically feeling like they’ve given up on their leaders and have to take matters into their own hands.”

Majd Al Waheidi contributed reporting from Gaza.

From:New York Times


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