JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military began deploying hundreds of troops in Israeli cities Wednesday to assist police forces in countering a wave of deadly Palestinian shooting and stabbing attacks that have created panic across the country.
The military’s deployment of six companies marks the first implementation of measures by Israel’s security Cabinet to counter the attacks that have intensified dramatically in recent days. The Cabinet met late into the night and announced steps early Wednesday that included allowing police to seal off points of friction or incitement. Many of the recent attackers have come from Arab areas of Jerusalem, prompting calls to seal off those neighborhoods to contain potential attackers.
The Cabinet also decided to strip residency rights and demolish homes of some attackers and draft hundreds more security guards to secure public transport.
Israeli police said 300 soldiers had already been incorporated into their deployment on the streets of east Jerusalem, where many of the assailants are from.
Also Wednesday, Israel’s internal security minister said the bodies of dead Palestinian attackers should not be returned to their families for burial.
Gilad Erdan said the funeral processions of Palestinians who killed Israelis often turn into “an exhibition of support for terror and incitement to murder.” He said Israel should not allow them to “enjoy respect and ceremonies” after their deaths.
The funerals are a frequent flashpoint for clashes and often include calls for revenge. Erdan suggested the attackers be buried without fanfare in distant cemeteries where previous Palestinian killers have been buried.
The comments come after a particularly bloody day in which a pair of Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks in Jerusalem killed three Israelis and another two attacks took place in the normally quiet Israeli city of Raanana. Three Palestinians, including two attackers, were also killed.
The government has thus far been unable to stop the violence, carried out mostly by young Palestinians unaffiliated with known militant groups and apparently acting on their own. Israel says the violence has been fueled by what it says is rampant incitement against Jews and Israelis on social media spread by Islamic groups and the Palestinian leadership.
In a briefing to foreign journalists, Israeli Cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz said the current conflict had less to do with political differences and more with anti-Semitic incitement to create a religious war.
He showed Palestinian videos and animations that glorified the stabbings of Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem and the killing of a Jewish settler couple in the West Bank in front of their children.
He also quoted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent statement where he blessed “every drop of blood spilled for Allah” and that Jews desecrated a Jerusalem holy site with their “filthy feet.”
“This is not new. It is just a new wave of terrorism and violence and this time it’s totally clear that the main approach here is a religious approach. Defending Islam from the enemy of the mosque, the enemy of Islam — against the Jews,” Steinitz said. “It’s all about horrible, anti-Jewish, racist incitement.”
The attacks have caused panic in Israel and raised fears that the region is on the cusp of a new round of heavy violence.
The wave of violence also comes at a time when prospects for negotiating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seem nil. It appears to have been fueled by a deep sense of frustration among Palestinians, who believe that all paths to gaining independence and ending nearly half a century of Israeli occupation have been blocked.
The violence erupted a month ago over the Jewish New Year, fueled by rumors that Israel was plotting to take over Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, sacred to both Muslims and Jews. Israel has adamantly denied the allegations and accused Palestinian leaders of inciting the violence and spreading lies.
Palestinians repeatedly barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, hurling stones and firebombs at police.
Violence was initially confined to east Jerusalem and the West Bank — territories Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war and claimed by the Palestinians for a future state — but later spread to Israeli cities. Violent protests have also broken out along with Israel-Gaza border. Clashes continued Wednesday between Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
Eight Israelis have died in a string of stabbings, shootings and the stoning of a car, while 29 Palestinians — including 12 identified by Israel as attackers — have been killed.
In Tuesday’s violence, a pair of Palestinian men boarded a bus and began shooting and stabbing passengers, while another assailant rammed a car into a bus stop, then got out of his vehicle and began hacking bystanders with a long knife.
The near-simultaneous attacks, along with two stabbings in the central Israeli city of Raanana, marked the most serious outbreak of violence since the current round of tensions erupted.
The Obama administration issued a strong condemnation of Palestinian incitement and assaults against Israelis. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he planned to visit the region soon to try and encourage calm.
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