Israeli security forces said they shot dead two Palestinian assailants Saturday in separate incidents in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, as 12 weeks of heightened violence showed no sign of abating. Since the beginning of October, Israeli forces or armed civilians have killed at least 128 Palestinians, 79 of whom authorities described as assailants. Most others have been killed in clashes with security forces. Almost-daily Palestinian stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks have killed 20 Israelis and a U.S. citizen, raising fears of a wider escalation a decade after the last Palestinian uprising subsided.
In the latest fatal incident, the Israeli military said a Palestinian rammed his car into Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint. "Forces responded to the imminent danger and fired toward the perpetrator," the military said, adding that one soldier had been wounded and evacuated to hospital. The 56-year-old Palestinian man died after being taken to hospital, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
The Palestinians disputed the Israeli military's account of the incident. Jamil Dawoud, 49, said he was traveling in the car behind the one of the man who was shot at the checkpoint, indicating soldiers were inspecting the vehicles and that the soldier who opened fire appeared to misunderstand what had happened. "There were three soldiers. One soldier signaled for the man to come forward, a soldier was on the edge of the road and he tried to move backward when he slipped. The second soldier opened fire, firing four bullets at the man. After that, they tried to give him first aid," Dawoud said.
Hours earlier, police officers shot dead a Palestinian who attempted to stab a policeman near Jerusalem's walled Old City. Officers approached a man they said was following Jewish worshippers, representative Luba Samri said, and they asked to see his identification papers. "The terrorist whipped out a knife and tried to stab a police officer. He was swiftly shot and neutralized," Samri said. The incident was captured on security-camera footage.
The surge in violence has been fueled by Palestinians' frustration over Israel's 48-year occupation of land they seek for an independent state and the expansion of settlements in those territories that were captured by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967. Palestinian leaders say a young generation sees no hope for the future living under Israeli security restrictions and with a stifled economy. The latest round of U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed in April 2014.
Violence has also been triggered by Muslim anger over stepped-up Israeli visits to Jerusalem's al Aqsa mosque complex. The site, Islam's holiest outside Saudi Arabia, is also revered by many Jews as a vestige of their biblical temples.
Israeli leaders say Islamist groups that call for the destruction of Israel have played a major role in inciting the recent violence.