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Palestinian woman shot dead after alleged stabbing attempt in Hebron

Woman was shot at Hebron holy site in third violent incident in two days amid escalating tensions over access to sacred Jerusalem compound
Israeli soldiers patrol in Kiryat Arba, the settlement near Hebron where a 13-year-old girl was stabbed to death this week (AFP)

A Palestinian woman, who was related to a man killed on Thursday after he stabbed American teenager living in Hebron, was shot dead by Israeli police on Friday after allegedly attempting to stab an Israeli guard at a flashpoint West Bank holy site.

Israeli officials said that no police were wounded in the stabbing attempt at the site in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque and to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs.

"A female terrorist armed with a knife approached a border police post at one of the entrances to the Cave of the Patriarchs and suddenly drew a knife and tried to stab one of the policemen," a police statement said.

"He responded and shot the terrorist."

The woman, identified in Palestinian media as 27-year-old Sara Tarayra, was reported to have been pregnant.

Tarayra's 19-year-old relative Mohammed stabbed to death 13-year-old Hallel Ariel on Thursday night in her home at the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba adjoining Hebron, before being shot dead by security guards. 

The death near the Ibrahimi Mosque on Friday morning is the third violent incident in Israel and the Palestinian territories in two days, and comes as Muslims approach the end of their holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Tensions have risen in recent days over access to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, and fierce clashes broke out at the main checkpoint between the West Bank and Jerusalem after thousands of Palestinians were barred from entering the city to pray at the site.

A sacred site to both Jews and Muslims, the compound is regularly closed to Muslims, with the exception of women and men over the age of 40 or 50, particularly during times of political strife. Non-Muslims, including Jews, are allowed to visit the site during set hours, but are barred from praying to avoid provoking tensions.

During the last 10 days of Ramadan, there is a tacit ban on non-Muslim access to the site, but Islamic officials have accused Israel this week of breaking that ban which has caused tensions to escalate.

Hebron has also been a flashpoint in a spate of deadly unrest that has rocked Israel and the Palestinian territories since October.

Several hundred Jewish settlers live in a tightly guarded enclave in the heart of the city of more than 200,000 Palestinians, a persistent source of tensions.

Kiryat Arba lies on the outskirts of the city and has a population of more than 7,000.

The violence since October has killed at least 213 Palestinians, 33 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese national.

Police reinforcements in Jerusalem

In Jerusalem, Israeli police said they had deployed thousands of officers "in and around the Old City" in preparation for the fourth and final Friday prayers of Ramadan.

"Thousands of (Muslims) are expected to make their way to the Old City for prayers," a police statement said in English.

"Police and border police will be patrolling the different areas to prevent - and respond to if necessary - any incidents."

Clashes between Muslims and Israeli police broke out on Sunday over Jewish visits to the compound, with youths throwing stones and security forces firing tear gas and sponge-tipped bullets.

In an effort to cap rising tensions, Israeli authorities announced on Tuesday that they were closing Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound to non-Muslim visitors after a series of clashes between worshippers and police.

The decision will apply until the end of Ramadan next week, a police spokesperson told AFP.

The period, which began on Sunday, is the most solemn for Muslims and attracts the highest number of worshippers.

Revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, the mosque compound is located in East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

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