December 26, 2013

String of Palestinian attacks has Israel jittery

Leaders say ‘rogue nature’ of latest violence makes response difficult

By Aron Heller
The Associated Press

JERUSALEM – A spate of violent Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets in recent weeks is raising concerns in Israel that it may be on the verge of a new type of Palestinian uprising.

click image to enlarge

A Palestinian man, center, grieves for his niece, 3-year-old Hala Abu Sebakha, who medics said was killed by shrapnel during an Israeli air strike on the Al Maghazi camp, at the morgue of Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir Al Balah, central Gaza Strip on Tuesday, In response to the deadly shooting of an Israeli civilian by a Palestinian sniper, Israeli air and ground forces launched a series of attacks Tuesday on targets across the Gaza Strip.

AP Photo/Adel Hana

In contrast to previous waves of Palestinian violence, the recent incidents do not appear to be an organized effort by militant groups but rather a collection of individual acts. Their rogue nature has made it difficult for Israeli leaders to respond or even identify their exact cause.

After years of relative quiet, Israel’s Shin Bet security service has reported a steady rise in attacks since Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators resumed peace talks in July. In November, for instance, there were 167 attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank, compared to 136 in October, the agency said.

The past few days have been particularly dramatic. On Sunday, a pipe bomb believed to be planted by Palestinian militants exploded on a bus in central Israel in the most serious attack inside Israel in more than a year. The bus was evacuated moments before the blast, but the explosion caused heavy damage. The next day, an Israeli policeman was stabbed outside a West Bank settlement and on Tuesday an Israeli civilian was killed by a Palestinian sniper in a cross-border shooting from Gaza, sparking a series of Israeli airstrikes that killed a Palestinian girl.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the incidents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – which are ruled by rival Palestinian governments – were unrelated, calling them “atmosphere attacks.” But he promised that Israel would respond nonetheless.

“This is an unacceptable situation for us and despite the difficulty of dealing with an individual assailant who is incited to kill Jews, we will act with force and in other ways to harm those who try to carry out attacks,” he said.

The West Bank and Gaza Strip, located on opposite sides of Israel, are ruled by different governments. Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority are engaged in peace talks aimed at ending decades of conflict and establishing an independent state for Palestinians. Gaza’s Islamic Hamas rulers, on the other hand, refuse to recognize Israel and call for its destruction.

Both Israel and Palestinian officials agree that violence from the West Bank is connected to the peace talks, though they pin the blame on each other.

The Palestinians say the current climate is a result of brewing frustrations over the perceived lack of progress in peace talks while Israel continues to build Jewish settlements on land they claim for a future state. On Wednesday, an Israeli official said Prime Minister Netanyahu planned to announce new settlement construction next week.

“Politically, there is no sign of any hope and on the economic side there is no sign too,” said Jihad Harb, a Palestinian commentator. “People are frustrated by political groups who failed to bring them independence, so therefore they behave individually.”

Israeli leaders accuse the Palestinians of spreading hatred and incitement.

“The terrorist attacks against Israelis over the last few days are a direct result of the incitement and hatred propagated in Palestinian schools and media,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu. “We are disappointed that so far President (Mahmoud) Abbas has not condemned these acts of terrorism as one would expect from a partner in peace talks.”

Israel’s national police chief, Yohanan Danino, gave a slightly different explanation. He said forces have long feared that Palestinian extremists would increase their activities in order to derail peace talks. “Unfortunately, our estimation proved true,” he said.

Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett said the attacks themselves were a result of the talks, which he opposes.

(Continued on page 2)

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