JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli security forces shot dead two Palestinian assailants in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, police and the army said, as a month-long spate of stabbing attacks showed no signs of abating.
The latest assaults, like other recent stabbings, took place in Hebron, a city in the West Bank, signaling that violence was shifting to that territory from Israel and Jerusalem, where police have set up roadblocks in Palestinian neighborhoods that were home to many of the alleged assailants.
A paramilitary policeman shot dead a Palestinian in Hebron who had stabbed and lightly wounded a soldier, police said. Hours later, at a nearby location, a second Palestinian was shot and killed by Israeli troops when he tried to knife a soldier, who was unhurt, the army said.
This month’s wave of violence, the worst since the 2014 Gaza war, has in part been spurred by religious and political tensions over a Jerusalem site sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
Increased visitor numbers by religious Jews to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque plaza - Islam’s holiest site outside Saudi Arabia and revered in Judaism as the location of two destroyed biblical temples - have spurred Palestinian allegations that Israel is violating a “status quo” by which Jewish prayer there is banned.
Israel has pledged to abide by the long-standing arrangement at the site in Jerusalem’s walled Old City and has said false allegations by Palestinian officials, echoed in Arab social media, that it intends to encroach on Muslim rights of worship have been inciting violence.
Since the latest wave of unrest began on Oct. 1, at least 62 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israelis in the West Bank and in Gaza. Of those, 35 were assailants armed mainly with knives and in some cases with guns, Israel said, while others were shot during anti-Israeli protests. Many were teenagers.
Eleven Israelis have been killed in stabbings and shootings.
The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, a Palestinian institution based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said information from families and the Palestinian Health Ministry showed Israel was holding 29 bodies of Palestinians killed in the violence, including at least 17 from Hebron.
Asked about the figures, the Israeli military declined comment, referring queries to the Prime Minister’s Office, where a spokesman could not immediately be reached.
Hebron’s Palestinian governor, Kamel Hmeid, said the failure to release bodies to the families was stoking anger in the city, where stone-throwing anti-Israeli protests have been raging.
“Everyone is awaiting the handover of bodies ... Organizers of protests have made clear they will not rest before the bodies of martyrs are released to their families (for burial),” Hmeid said.
Amnesty International says some of the killings of Palestinians were unjustified and that Israeli forces were using “extreme and unlawful measures”. Israel says it has a right to use lethal force to stop attempts to kill its citizens.
A U.S.-promoted Jordanian plan announced on Saturday to set up cameras to monitor the flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque compound has not been implemented. Palestinians have voiced concern that Israel would use such footage to arrest suspected militants.
Palestinians are deeply frustrated by the failure of numerous rounds of peace talks to secure them an independent state in territories, including the West Bank, that Israel captured in a 1967 war. The last phase of negotiations collapsed in 2014.
Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones