Israeli paramilitary police shot dead a Palestinian at an entrance to Jerusalem’s walled Old City on Monday, saying he had tried to stab an officer on patrol during the worst spell of street violence for several years.
A Palestinian passerby disputed the police account, saying he had seen police shout at the man, then shoot him four times. “I saw no knife on him,” Hussam Wshah, 66, told Reuters.
Four Israelis and 24 Palestinians, including eight children, have died in 12 days of bloodshed, fueled in part by Muslim anger over increasing Jewish visits to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.
Near-daily knife attacks have raised concerns Palestinians could be embarking on another uprising, or Intifada, reflecting a new generation’s frustrations over a veteran leadership’s failure to achieve statehood in peace efforts that collapsed in 2014.
Israel has poured reinforcements into Jerusalem, with no diplomatic initiatives on the horizon and Israeli leaders warning there could be no quick fix to largely “lone wolf” assaults.
At the Old City’s Lions Gate, paramilitary border police ordered a Palestinian to halt for an identity check, instructing him “to take his hands out of his pockets,” a police spokesman said.
“The terrorist approached the policeman with a knife in his hand and stabbed him in his protective vest,” the spokesman said. “The policeman was unhurt and other officers reacted swiftly and shot and killed him.”
Officers released a video to the media showing a body and a knife on the ground but not the alleged confrontation.
Wshah, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, said he witnessed the events from several meters away.
“The young man was walking when they shouted at him. He may not have heard them, and they fired directly at him four times and he fell to the ground,” Wshah told Reuters.
Violence has spread from Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank to Israel’s interior and Hamas-ruled Gaza. On Sunday, an Israeli Arab stabbed and wounded four people near a bus stop in the north of the country. He was overpowered and arrested.
Israeli Arabs have demonstrated in support of Palestinian protests in the occupied West Bank that have accompanied the surge in attacks.
Muslim anger has been stoked by increasing visits made over the past year by Jewish groups and right-wing lawmakers to al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is also revered by Jews as the site of two destroyed biblical temples.
Israel has said it has no intention of allowing any change to the status quo under at Islam’s third holiest site, which Jews are allowed to visit but where non-Muslim prayer is banned.