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Israel locks down East Jerusalem neighbourhoods

2 alleged Palestinian attackers have been shot dead in Jerusalem. One attack was thwarted, while an Israeli woman was injured in the other
Israeli police stop a Palestinian at the Damascus Gate at the entrance of the Old City in east Jerusalem on 13 October 2015 as security measures are increased (AFP)

Israel's security cabinet agreed early on Wednesday to impose measures to halt a further escalation of violence, hours after a spate of attacks and clashes in Israel and the occupied Palestian territories that marked one of the worst days since the crisis began last week.

Police checkpoints have been set up on Wednesday afternoon in villages around Jerusalem, scene of most of the deadly attacks, and in several of the city's East Jerusalem neighbourhoods where an estimated 300,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel live.

MEE's contributor who drove through East Jerusalem said there were Israeli soldiers on every corner, police forces in the street and snipers on buildings. 

Large cement barriers blocked the entrance to Ras al-Amud, one of the largest neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, and Palestinians in Israel are no longer being allowed to pass by car, including to work or school, MEE's contributor said. 

Within Ras al-Amud, there is a Jewish Israeli settlement in the neighbourhood whose residents are being allowed to drive through. 

Gilad Erdan, the Israeli Minister for Public Security, has also now pledged to ease gun ownership laws in Israel to allow more people to hold firearms. He said that: "in the last weeks many civilians have helped the Israeli police to neutralise Palestinians who meant to [carry out] attacks... Civilians are a good power to stop against terrorism." 

Settlers, former army personnel who reach a certain level, as well as anyone working in the security sector are currently allowed to carry firearms. But Erdan said that he wants to see people deemed at high risk of attack, like ultra-Orthodox religious teachers, also be given permission to hold firearms in East Jerusalem. 

Palestinians and human rights groups firmly oppose the measures, fearing that it will lead to a spate of vigilante violence and lead to innocent civilians being shot for allegedly trying to attack Israelis. 

"Since the beginning of the current wave of violence, there has been a worrying trend to use firearms to kill Palestinians who have attacked Israelis or are suspected of such attacks," a collection of Israeli-based human rights groups, including Amnesty, said in a statement. 

"Politicians and senior police officers have not only failed to act to calm the public climate of incitement, but on the contrary have openly called for the extrajudicial killing of suspects. They have also urged civilians to carry weapons...The political and public support for such actions endorses the killing Palestinians in the territories and in Israel."
Muhammad Abu al-Hummus, a spokesman for the local Follow-Up Committee, a group that represents Palestinian citizens of Israel, told Maan News Agency that Israeli security forces have been issuing citations to Palestinian drivers at random on Wednesday and have also stopped and inspected young Palestinians in what he described as humiliating ways, including forcing them to take off items of clothing.

After the new measures were imposed, a Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli security forces on Wednesday afternoon after allegedly trying to stab a police officer. Footage of the incident has appeared online, seemingly showing the man running along with a knife in one hand and a phone in another. 

The man was later identified as 20-year old Bassel Sadr from the West Bank city of Hebron.

The attempted attack took place at Damascus Gate, one of the entrances to the Old City of Jerusalem. The stabbing was reportedly thwarted. Several hours later, another Palestinian man reportedly tried to carry out an attack. He wounded an elderly Israeli woman before being shot dead near the central bus station, Israeli website Y Net reported.  

Fierce clashes also broke out in the West Bank city of Bethlehem following the funeral of 27-year-old Motaz Zawahreh who was shot dead on Tuesday during clashes in the area. 

Following the burial, hundreds of young Palestinian men and women marched down a main road in Bethlehem to confront Israeli forces. According to MEE contributor Abed al-Qaisi, protesters carried red flags and symbols in support of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the left-wing Palestinian faction Zawahreh was affiliated with. Protesters clashed with Israeli forces for more than eight hours, with protests ongoing into the night. Molotov cocktails and rocks were thrown at Israeli forces who shot tear gas at protesters, as well as shooting live and rubber-coated steel bullets, Qaisi said. 
In a speech broadcast on official Palestinian television - his first since the outbreak of the violence - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said he favoured "peaceful,  popular resistance" against Israeli occupation, and spoke of the Palestinian people's "right to defend ourselves" and "pursue our national struggle".

Further measures to come

Further measures decided early on Wednesday include a ban on rebuilding the homes of any attackers that the government demolishes and the permanent revocation of the residency rights of those accused of attacks, a statement from the prime minister's office said.

The Israeli military has announced that it will also send six companies to assist police after the cabinet approved the deployment of reinforcements for city police, a move that observers say is unprecedented. 

Three hundred security guards will also be hired to secure public transportation in Jerusalem, Haaretz reported. 

The cabinet also approved a proposal by the Public Security Minister Gilad Erdgan to not return the bodies of any Palestinian killed by security forces while attempting to attack an Israeli, a detail not initally released by Israel but reported by The Jerusalem Post. 

The newspaper quoted Erdan claiming the reason for the ruling is because the "family turns the funeral into a demonstration of support for terrorism and incitement to murder". The bodies will instead be buried in military cemeteries. 

Ministers are also reportedly considering whether to boost police forces with soldiers and also to establish checkpoints leading to Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, a senior Jerusalem official told Haaretz.

The cabinet is scheduled to reconvene on Wednesday afternoon to continue their discussion and will reportedly discuss incitement to violence.

Ahead of the cabinet's decision during a break, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late on Tuesday had pledged a widespread security crackdown saying "all means" available would be used to end the wave of violence.

"Not only will we take away rights, but they will pay the full price … whoever raises a hand to hurt us - his hand will be cut off,” Netanyahu said.

Deepening occupation?

The government's measures have been met with criticism from Palestinian leaders who say the move will not improve security and will only deepen Israel's military occupation.

"Insanity is nothing but repeating the same thing but expecting different results," Mustafa Barghouti, president of the Palestinian National Initiative, told al-Jazeera. "When they decide to separate East and West Jerusalem it only proves that they have failed. The whole idea of walls and checkpoints is only deepening the military occupation."

"This is a new uprising and it will continue," he said. "We have always wanted popular, non-violent resistance, but Israel is the one using violence. They are allowing settlers to attack Palestinians."

Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid wrote on Wednesday morning that Israeli leaders are treating the current escalation as "a round of violence or a wave of terror that will soon pass".

"Even more disconcerting is the tendency by Netanyahu and his ministers to disassociate the current crisis from its context," Ravid wrote. "As if this is a natural disaster that has emerged and is out of our control, and not a man-made development for which Israel might be at least partially responsible."

Sources in East Jerusalem said, even ahead of the decision, there was a heavy police presence on Tuesday in much of the city, with soldiers also highly visible throughout the day.

The streets continued to be empty with many shops closed and people reluctant to leave their homes. Young Palestinian men were regularly being stopped and searched. 

- Additional reporting by Abed al-Qaisi in Bethlehem 

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