Netanyahu accuses Arabs of incitement in wave of stabbings

JERUSALEM — Palestinians carried out three stabbings Monday in Jerusalem, leaving a teenage Israeli boy in critical condition, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily accused the country’s Arab leaders of helping incite weeks of violence. Two of the attackers, both teenage boys, were killed.

In a fiery speech at parliament, Netanyahu accused Arab parties of “undermining” the country. He called on Israel’s Arab citizens to “kick out the extremists among you.”

Netanyahu spoke on another bloody day, the latest in a monthlong wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

In a new setback for efforts to restore calm, the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia —— postponed a trip to the region. Edgar Vasquez, a spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Near East Affairs, said it was at the request of the Israeli government due to the circumstances.

Israeli police reported three separate stabbings across the city, including an assault by two attackers in the east Jerusalem area of Pisgat Zeev. Police said the pair seriously wounded a 20-year-old man before attacking a teenage boy on a bicycle.

The boy was critically wounded before police shot and killed one of the attackers, while the second was run over by a car. Abdel Nasser Manasra, a relative of Ahmed, 13, and Hassan, 15, said both were cousins. He did not know which had been killed.

Other attacks occurred in Jerusalem’s Old City, where a 17-year-old assailant was killed, and outside the national police headquarters. The attacker, identified as a 16-year-old girl, was shot and wounded, while a police officer was lightly hurt.

The unrest began last month with clashes at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site and quickly spread across Israel and into the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Five Israelis have been killed in stabbings, a shooting and a stoning attack on a moving vehicle, while at least 25 Palestinians, including 10 attackers, have been slain. Several Palestinian children, including a 2-year-old girl killed with her mother in a Gaza airstrike, have been among the dead. Hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded in clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank.

The stabbings have rattled Israel. The attackers, many of them teenagers, have had no affiliation with militant groups, and the seemingly random nature of the stabbings has made it difficult to predict or prevent them.

Netanyahu has come under heavy criticism for failing to stop the violence, and an opinion poll this week showed that more than 70 percent of the public is dissatisfied with his handling of the crisis.

The violence erupted over the Jewish New Year last month, fueled by rumors that Israel was plotting to take over a site holy to both Muslims and Jews. The rumors ignited clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian activists who hurled stones and firebombs at them from inside the mosque, and the violence has spread.

Israel has dismissed the rumors as slanderous and repeatedly said there are no plans to alter a longstanding status quo at the spot, revered by Jews as the site of the biblical Temples and today home to Islam’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem, including the Old City, from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. Since then, under an agreement with Jordan, non-Muslims have been allowed to visit the hilltop compound, but not pray there. Jordan retains custodial rights over the Muslim holy sites.

In his speech, Netanyahu dismissed the Palestinian accusations as a “total lie” and accused the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the militant group Hamas and Israel’s own Islamic Movement of incitement. He called on President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority, to condemn the violence.

But Netanyahu also went after Arab lawmakers in the chamber, accusing two of them of supporting the violence against Israelis. “It is unbelievable that an Israeli member of parliament calls for terror attacks against Israelis,” he said.

In a message to the Arab public, he urged them “to kick out the extremists among you,” and said he was committed to coexistence.

Israel’s Arab minority makes up about 20 percent of the country’s 8 million people. While they have full citizenship rights, they often suffer discrimination in such areas as jobs and housing. Mistrust of Netanyahu remains high following his election day appeal for supporters to go to the polls, warning them that Arabs were voting “in droves.”

The unrest has also exposed divisions in the Arab community itself. In an exchange broadcast on Israeli TV, the mayor of the Arab city of Nazareth scolded Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab party in parliament.

Mayor Ali Salem said harsh rhetoric by Arab lawmakers had kept Jewish tourists from visiting his city, hurting residents’ livelihoods.

“Ayman, go look someplace else. You’ve ruined the city!” he screamed as Odeh was about to be interviewed by a TV station. “There wasn’t even a single Jew here today. Not even one!”

Both Netanyahu and Abbas have been unable to contain the violence, and both men have been constrained by outside pressures.

Netanyahu is under intense pressure from his hard-line coalition partners to launch a crackdown. Israel has already deployed thousands of police and soldiers across Israel and the West Bank, and Netanyahu is considering a ban on the Islamic Movement.

But taking even tougher action could risk provoking even more unrest. Netanyahu has coupled his tough rhetoric with calls for resuming peace talks. In an attempt to ease tensions, he has banned Israeli lawmakers from visiting the holy site in Jerusalem.

While Abbas has spoken out against violence, he is deeply unpopular at home due to the failure of peace talks and lack of hope for ending nearly 50 years of Israeli occupation. He also cannot be seen as abandoning what the Palestinians view as their defense of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

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