By Ali Sawafta, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch
Three Palestinians were shot dead on Saturday in what Israel said were thwarted knife attacks, but a Palestinian witness of one incident said it was a result of Jewish settler violence, as tensions ran high after more than two weeks of unrest.
At least 40 Palestinians and seven Israelis have died in the violence, which was in part triggered by Palestinians’ anger over what they see as increased Jewish encroachment on Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound.
Israeli border police had stopped to question a 16-year-old Palestinian walking in “a suspicious manner” through a neighborhood around East Jerusalem, a police spokesman said. The teenager drew a knife and tried to stab the officers, who shot him dead, the spokesman said.
A second shooting occurred near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank city of Hebron. The Israeli military said a Palestinian attempted to stab an Israeli civilian, who was carrying a gun and then shot and killed the attacker.
A Palestinian high schooler, who witnessed the Hebron shooting, said it happened when Jewish settlers attacked an unarmed Palestinian, according the girl’s father who spoke with Reuters.
Also in Hebron, a female Palestinian stabbed an Israeli border policewoman, cutting her hand, a police spokesman said. The policewoman managed to shoot the attacker, he said.
More than 40 Palestinians have been killed in the last two weeks, including knife-wielding assailants and protesters shot by Israeli forces during rock-throwing confrontations. Seven Israelis have died in random attacks in the street or on buses.
Israel says it is keeping the status quo at the holy compound, which is also revered by Jews as the location of two destroyed biblical Jewish temples.
Peace talks collapsed in 2014 over Israeli settlement-building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Palestinians seek for a state, and after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas angered Israel by reaching a unity deal with the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.
The last major confrontation was the Gaza conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2014, which left large sections of Gaza destroyed. Around 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73Israelis, almost all soldiers, were killed.
The United States has stepped up efforts to try to restore calm to the region. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas to discuss ways to end the violence.
Kerry and Netanyahu will meet next week in Germany.