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Tension grows in Jerusalem after baby killed in alleged attack

Israel launches fresh wave of arrests in West Bank after clashes as Palestinian accused of Jerusalem 'attack' dies
An Israeli officer shouts orders at the scene of Wednesday's deadly smash in Jerusalem (Twitter / @AlBawabaEnglish)

At least 19 Palestinians have been arrested as tensions rise after the death of a young man shot in the back while fleeing the scene of a deadly traffic incident in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

The 21-year old driver, Abdel Rahman al-Shaludi, who grew up in Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem, was shot by Israeli police as he tried to flee on foot from the site where his car rammed pedestrians, killing a three-month old baby and injuring eight others.

Shaludi, whom Israeli police chief Micky Rosenfeld described as an “Arab terrorist”, died in hospital on Thursday morning of his injuries.

Israeli media outlets broadcast pictures of the crash site, as well as images that appeared to show Shaludi lying on the ground – it was unclear whether these shots were taken after Wednesday’s incident.

The funeral of the baby, the child of American citizens who had recently migrated to Israel, was attended by hundreds on Wednesday night – mourners included Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat arrives at funeral (Twitter / @JewishStandard)

Israeli police have dubbed the incident a “hit-and-run terror attack” while 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leaders. 

"Terrorist attacks like today's in Jerusalem are typical of Hamas, President Abbas' partner in the Palestinian government," Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev said.

However, no group has yet claimed responsibility with several eye-witnesses telling Palestinian news agency Ma’an on Wednesday that it looked as though Shaludi had lost control of the vehicle.

The incident, and the subsequent security escalation which has seen a spate of clashes and arrests comes just days after a five-year old Palestinian girl, Enas Khalil, was killed when an Israeli settler hit her with his car.

The driver, reportedly a 29-year old from a settlement near the West Bank town of Ramallah, fled the scene.

Back in August, a Palestinian man also rammed a bus with an excavator, killing one Israeli and injuring five other. Police shot dead the driver at the scene.

It is the second such incident to rock Israel, with a Palestinian man ramming a bus with an excavator back in August. One Israeli was killed and five injured. Police shot the driver dead. - See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/palestinian-rams-car-crowd-killing-baby-357884743#sthash.gT80cyAC.dpuf

Arrests and mass police deployment

In the aftermath of the two deaths, tension has been mounting on both sides, with Rosenfeld reporting “heightened security in Jerusalem.”

Picture posted by Israeli police chief shows the train stop where the incident occured (Twitter / @MickyRosenfeld)

Israeli forces have so far arrested 17 Palestinians from across the West Bank during clashes that broke out after the incident, as well as two Palestinians from within Jerusalem.

After a meeting on Wednesday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the deployment of hundreds of extra police personnel around the city.

In a statement issued on Thursday morning, Israeli police reported that stones had been thrown towards Israeli forces, who had “responded by dispersing the throwers using dispersal methods, without reports of injuries.”

But Palestinian news site Quds News Network reported on Wednesday night that two people were injured by live ammunition and eight by rubber bullet fire during confrontations near the volatile West Bank Qalandiya checkpoint.

There were also reports on Thursday morning that, after a night of unrest, Israeli forces had used concrete blocks to prevent traffic from reaching Jerusalem.

As tensions continued to rise, Amos Harel, a military and defence expert working with Israeli daily Haaretz, warned that the events were escalating quickly and could spark a “Jerusalem intifada” which would ignite “fire” in the West Bank.

Harel wrote that violence has been simmering in Jerusalem since this summer’s war in Gaza, in what can only be called “a municipal intifada.”

East Jerusalem clashes (MEE)

The war was sparked by the kidnapping and killing of three teenage Israeli settlers in the West Bank by Palestinian gunmen whom the Israeli authorities wrongly but very publically linked to Hamas.

The kidnapping in turn led to the brutal revenge murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem by right-wing Israeli settlers. The killing exasperated tensions and caused tens of thousands of Palestinians to take to the streets in Jerusalem and the West Bank in the biggest protests to rock the Occupied Territories since the Second Intifada. Hundreds of people have since been arrested by the Israeli authorities in a widespread crackdown.

In a letter on 3 October, Jerusalem mayor wrote to Netanyahu demanding action to quell the city’s “silent intifada.”

Amid such warnings, Israeli police have announced measures which they hope will put an end to rising tensions in Jerusalem.

Israel's police commissioner pledged on Tuesday that a new task force will be established to deal with "incidents."

He also said police are "moving ahead with...intelligence gathering."

The promises came after an apartment taken over by Israeli settlers came under attack on Tuesday in Silwan, the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighbourhood where Shaludi grew up.

‘Inflammatory rhetoric’

After the incident, Israeli politicians were quick to hold Palestinian leaders accountable for the death of the baby in Israel.

Israeli police allege that Shaludi, whose East Jerusalem home was raided by Israeli security forces in February 2014, was an active member of Hamas.

Politicians blamed both Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who recently entered a unity government with Hamas, for the death of the three-month old baby, Chaya Zissel Braun.

Officials from Hamas and Fatah, the party headed by Abbas, had yet to comment on these allegations, or on Shaludi’s death, at the time of publication.

MEE sources in Gaza said that the incident does not bear the hallmarks of a Hamas attack, and that they would be unlikely to launch a small-scale attack at this time.

“This kind of attack is not in Hamas’s dictionary, especially now after the war. If Hamas wanted to do something – which is not in their interests now - they would probably choose to do something on a much bigger scale.” 

Politicians demand 'iron fist' to quell Jerusalem unrest

Right-wing Israeli politicians were more outspoken in the aftermath of the incident, with Economy Minister Naftali Bennett calling on leaders to use an “iron fist” to stamp out violence in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who in September visited Shaludi’s home town of Silwan in a show of support to Israeli settlers there, demanded decisive action to stifle all forms of Palestinian resistance.

“This begins with the throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails, and the situation deteriorates to the point where Jewish blood has been spilled today. I demand that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Internal Security act with all possible severity against all those who attempt to harm citizens of Israel.”

The US also condemned the “terrorist attack in Jerusalem”, which killed the child of US citizens, in the strongest possible terms.

The statement comes a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has played an active role in recent negotiations between Israel and Palestine, called the status quo between the two parties “unsustainable.”

He said that the US fully understands the “urgency” of the current situation.

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