JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian assailants carried out stabbing attacks Monday in Tel Aviv and the West Bank, police said, killing an Israeli woman and a soldier as a wave of Arab unrest appeared to be gaining strength.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a harsh response — a confrontational strategy that risks deepening weeks of turmoil that has shaken the country.
With the attacks believed to be the work of lone assailants, however, police could have a tough time preventing more of them.
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been high following a 50-day Israeli war in July and August against militants in the Gaza Strip and increased friction over Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site — the hilltop complex revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
The friction has led to a series of bloody Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets.
Israel's Arab minority also has been brought into the mix, with street protests following the shooting death of a young Israeli Arab man by Israeli police, and there have been tough statements by hard-line Israeli politicians.
Rhetoric by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has added to the discord, with Israel accusing him of inciting violence by not condemning the attacks and urging Palestinians to block Jewish prayer at the holy site "by any means."
Speaking to members of his Likud Party, Netanyahu vowed to act "decisively against the rioters that call for Israel's annihilation."
Accusing the Palestinian leadership of incitement, he said those who demonstrate against Israel and in favor of the Palestinians should move to the West Bank or Gaza Strip. "I promise you that the state of Israel will not make it difficult for you," he said.
Netanyahu vowed to "deploy all the tools at our disposal" to halt violent demonstrations. He said this could include new laws, the demolition of the homes of "terrorists," and other measures.
He spoke shortly after the Israeli soldier, identified by the military as 20-year-old Sgt. Almog Shilony, was stabbed as a crowd waited for a train in Tel Aviv and later died of his wounds. A bystander punched the assailant, intervening before there was more bloodshed. It was the first time in the current unrest that Israel's business and commercial capital has been targeted, signaling the violence is moving toward the country's heartland.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the suspect was from the West Bank city of Nablus and did not have a permit to be in Israel. He was captured and was being interrogated.
Later, a Palestinian assailant stabbed three people at a bus stop next to the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut, killing Dalia Lemkus, 25, and wounding two other people. A private security guard shot and wounded the attacker.
The stabbing occurred at the same spot where three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in June. The teens were killed by Hamas militants, and the abductions sparked a massive Israeli crackdown on the group.
Much of the recent unrest has stemmed from tensions surrounding the holy site in Jerusalem's Old City. It is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the gold-topped Dome of the Rock, the third-holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. But it is also revered as the location of the biblical Temples, the most sacred place in Judaism.
Palestinians in east Jerusalem have carried out violent protests, alleging that Jewish zealots are secretly trying to gain control of the site.
These fears have been heightened by visits to the site by Jewish hard-liners and calls by members of Netanyahu's governing coalition for an expanded Jewish presence there. They also object to Israeli restrictions on Muslims entering the compound. Israel says the restrictions are security measures.
Under an arrangement in place since Israel's capture of the Old City and its shrines in 1967, the hilltop complex is administered by Muslims reporting to Jordan, while Jews have a right to visit, but not to pray.
In recent weeks, two Palestinian motorists carried out deadly attacks by ramming their cars into crowds waiting for trains in Jerusalem. A third assailant shot and seriously wounded a prominent Jewish activist who has pushed for increased Jewish access to the Temple Mount.
Israel's tough response led Jordan to recall its ambassador to protest what it said were heavy-handed Israeli tactics at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Tensions heightened over the weekend after an Israeli police officer shot and killed an Israeli Arab in northern Israel. In video caught by a security camera, the man, who had attacked a police vehicle, appeared to be walking away from the officer when he was shot. Police are investigating.
Arabs make up some 20 percent of Israel's population. They enjoy full citizenship but have long complained of discrimination and often identify with their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza.
Prominent Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi said tensions in Israel's Arab sector were sky high, and he blamed Netanyahu. He said Israeli Arabs, like Palestinians, were upset about the events at Jerusalem's holy site, but that anger erupted after the police shooting.
"The ground in burning and there are those who are feeding the fire. There are pyromaniacs who are responsible: ministers, lawmakers and above all one man named Benjamin Netanyahu," he told The Associated Press. "The prime minister has simply lost it."
In previous times of tension, Israeli prime ministers have traditionally been the "responsible adult" calming the nation, he said. But in insinuating that Israeli Arabs consider moving to the West Bank or Gaza, Netanyahu was just increasing the anger, Tibi added.
"There has never been a prime minister who showed such disregard for 20 percent of the population," he said.
How police deal with the officer who opened fire will play a huge role in easing any future unrest, Tibi said.
Israel's new president, Reuven Rivlin, appealed for Jews and Arabs to resolve their differences through dialogue.
"These are difficult days. They demand of us unity and strength in the face of the perpetrators of terror," he said. "I call on all elected officials, all our leaders, from all across the political spectrum, to stand united."
Israeli security officials are not calling the unrest a new "intifada," or uprising. They say that while the general atmosphere may be contributing to the attacks, they do not appear to be linked or organized by any specific group.
"They are acting alone. They are lone terrorists," said Rosenfeld, the police spokesman. He said police were taking new measures to prevent additional violence and increasing security at "different public areas."
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it was "absolutely critical" that the parties take every possible measure to protect civilians and de-escalate tensions.
Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeanu, co-director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, a nonprofit group that promotes coexistence between Israel's Jews and Arabs, said comments by hard-line Cabinet ministers have only fanned the flames.
One minister, Naftali Bennett, called the Arab protester shot by police a "terrorist." And the public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovich, has said those who attack civilians should be killed.
"A lot will depend on the comments of Israeli leaders. Some of them have been very, very unhelpful," Be'eri-Sulitzeanu said.
Peter Enav in Jerusalem and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.