Israel's Netanyahu slams Arab lawmaker for holy site visit

AP News
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Posted: Oct 28, 2015 2:42 PM
Israel's Netanyahu slams Arab lawmaker for holy site visit

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister lashed out at an Arab lawmaker Wednesday for flouting a directive and visiting the sensitive Jerusalem holy site that is at the heart of the recent round of unrest, as the five-week long outbreak of violence that has plagued the region continued.

A Palestinian was shot after the Israeli military said he attempted to stab a soldier in the West Bank. His condition was not immediately known. In a separate incident, a Palestinian stabbed and wounded an Israeli woman.

The visit by legislator Basel Ghattas, a Christian Arab, to the hilltop compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims at the Noble Sanctuary defied instructions by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that all ministers and lawmakers — regardless of religion — avoid visiting the holy site during the tense time.

Netanyahu issued a special televised statement to condemn Ghattas' move.

"I assure you (Ghattas) did not do it in order to pray, he did it solely for the purpose of provocation, only to inflame the situation," Netanyahu said, adding that police removed him from the site.

Ghattas said he does not recognize Netanyahu's authority.

The ban on lawmakers was part of a slew of measures Israel has used to try to lower tensions and halt near-daily, seemingly spontaneous attacks.

The violence began in mid-September in Jerusalem, fueled by Palestinian fears that Israel was plotting to take over the holy site. Israel has adamantly denied any changes to longstanding arrangements at the site that permit Jews to visit but not pray, but Palestinians point to growing numbers of Jewish visitors, backed by some senior Israeli officials, who seek prayer rights and an expanded Jewish presence on the mount.

Attacks and unrest quickly spread deeper into Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel says the wave of violence is the result of Palestinian incitement. But Palestinians say it is the result of frustration stemming from nearly 50 years of Israeli occupation.

Israel has deployed hundreds of soldiers in cities across the country to back up thousands of police officers. It has set up checkpoints and concrete barriers in Arab areas of east Jerusalem, where many of the attackers are from.

Eleven Israelis have been killed, mostly in stabbings, while 55 Palestinians, including 35 labeled by Israel as attackers, have been killed by Israeli fire. The others have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces.

The Jerusalem site, holy to both Jews and Arabs, has been quiet of late. Last week, for the first time since the violence began, Israel lifted age restrictions for young Muslim men who wanted to pray there.

Israel says the age restrictions are a security measure, since most of the people who clash with police are young Palestinian males.

In recent days the violence has mainly struck in the West Bank. On Wednesday, the military said a Palestinian drew a knife at an army post in the West Bank city of Hebron and tried to stab a soldier. Forces shot the Palestinian. His condition was not immediately known.

The city, where hundreds of Jewish settlers live in heavily guarded enclaves amid tens of thousands of Palestinians, is a frequent flashpoint for violence.

Later, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli woman outside a West Bank supermarket, wounding her moderately, the military said. The attacker was detained at the scene, it said.

Also Wednesday, Israeli Channel 2 TV reported that an Arab citizen of Israel who was shot by Israeli forces after she brandished a knife at a bus station in northern Israel this month did not intend to carry out an attack. The channel, citing Israel's Justice Ministry, reported the woman was mentally unstable and suicidal and carried the knife with her into the bus station so that she could be shot and killed by Israeli forces. Israel's Justice Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The incident was caught on video, which showed the woman waving the knife and then surrounded by security forces who shot and wounded her. Palestinians have cited the incident in their claims that Israel has used excessive force during the current wave of violence.

The Palestinian attacks have put Israelis on edge and with public panic rising, there have been a number of violent cases of mistaken identity.

When an Arab citizen of Israel opened fire at a bus station in southern Israel recently, killing an Israeli soldier and wounding several people, a private security guard shot an Eritrean migrant he thought was an attacker. As the Eritrean lay on the ground, a mob of people cursed him, kicked him and hit him with objects. He later died of his wounds. Last week, an Israeli Jew was killed after soldiers thought he was a Palestinian attacker and earlier this month an Israeli man stabbed a Jew after mistaking his dark-skinned victim for an Arab.