October 8, 2015 / 1:11 AM / 2 years ago

Netanyahu cancels German visit as violence spreads across Israel

An Israeli policeman holds an Israeli soldier's gun which was snatched by a suspected Palestinian militant in a stabbing attack in the southern town of Kiryat Gat, Israel, October 7, 2015. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s prime minister canceled a visit to Germany on Wednesday after a spate of attacks that included the stabbing of an Israeli soldier by a suspected Palestinian militant who police said was then shot dead by special forces.

A steady rise in street violence, which Israeli and Palestinian leaders have sought to calm, has been fueled by confrontations around Jerusalem’s al Aqsa mosque complex, Islam’s third holiest shrine which Jews also revere as the vestige of their two ancient temples.

In the third knife attack in Jerusalem in less than a week, a young Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli on Wednesday near that contested site and was then shot by the injured man.

On a day of multiple attacks, the bloodshed also spread to other parts of Israel.

The stabbing of the soldier by the presumed militant took place in the southern town of Kiryat Gat, and in the central city of Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv, a Palestinian stabbed and lightly wounded an Israeli man outside a busy shopping center, police said.

Four Israelis have been killed in stabbings in Jerusalem and a drive-by shooting in the occupied West Bank since Thursday, and two Palestinians have been shot dead and scores injured in clashes with security services, triggering fears of an escalation.

With those concerns still acute after Wednesday’s incidents, Netanyahu canceled a trip to Germany, Israel’s most important European ally, scheduled for Thursday.

Israel Radio reported that in a bid to ease tensions, a few days ago, Netanyahu instructed his ministers and governing lawmakers to temporarily refrain from visiting the volatile mosque compound, which Jews refer to as Temple Mount.

Palestinians fear increasing visits by Jewish groups to al-Aqsa are eroding longtime Muslim religious control there. Netanyahu has stated that he is committed to keeping the “status quo” at Temple Mount.

A small group of ultranationalist lawmakers and at least one minister have visited the plaza around al-Aqsa in recent months, heightening tensions there.

Both Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas - though at diplomatic loggerheads over peace talks that stalled in April 2014 - have sought to avert an escalation, and Netanyahu on Wednesday praised Israelis’ resolve.

“The object of terror is to instill fear and the main way to defeat terror is to display calm and resolve... we have known worse periods than this and we will overcome this,” he said.

Striking a similar tone, the Fatah Central Committee, the highest decision making body of the movement led by Abbas, praised Palestinians who participate in rallies “to defend the holy Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem.”

UNDERCOVER SOLDIERS

The stabbing of the Israeli man by the 18-year-old Palestinian woman occurred near the Western Wall, a Jewish prayer site in Jerusalem’s walled Old City abutting the al Aqsa mosque complex. The Israeli, lightly injured, drew a gun and shot the woman, seriously wounding her, police said.

Hoping to head off the violence and potential knock-on attacks by ultra-nationalist Israelis, Netanyahu has beefed up the military presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

On Wednesday, Israeli troops clashed with Palestinians in the West Bank, with two Palestinians who suffered serious injuries near the settlement of Beit El near Ramallah taken for treatment in Israeli hospitals.

Video footage of the clash showed Israeli undercover soldiers dressed as masked Palestinians appearing to take part in the stone throwing before suddenly drawing their concealed weapons and turning on the Palestinians to carry out arrests.

The Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service said 288 Palestinians were hurt in Wednesday’s clashes, including 10 by live fire.

The Palestinians seek a state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Reporting by Dan Williams and Ori Lewis; Editing by Andrew Heavens, John Stonestreet, Toni Reinhold

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