Israeli soldier shot dead

  • 19/10/2015
(file, Reuters)
(file, Reuters)

By Jonah Mandel

An Israeli soldier has been killed in a shooting at a bus station in Beersheba, further stoking fears of a full-blown Palestinian uprising as diplomats scramble to quell tensions.

The Sunday evening (local time) attack in the southern city was the first after a day in which unrest between Palestinians and Israelis seemed to somewhat ebb, following more than two weeks of relentless violence.

Police said a gunman, thought to be Palestinian, entered the bus station armed with a pistol and knife, killing the soldier and wounding 10 other people, including four officers.

The gunman himself was then killed and an African bystander was shot by security forces who mistook him for a second gunman.

The identity of the assailant was not immediately known, and there was no claim of responsibility for the attack.

But it was praised by militant groups in Gaza, with Hamas calling it a "natural response to Israelis assassinations" and Islamic Jihad saying it was a "normal answer to Israeli crimes".

Diplomatic moves to halt the more than two weeks of unrelenting violence gained steam, meanwhile, with US Secretary of State John Kerry saying he planned to meet both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the coming days.

Clashes also broke out in the West Bank city of Hebron, where three attacks occurred on Saturday.

On the Gaza border, three Palestinians were moderately wounded by small calibre bullets during clashes with Israeli forces on Sunday after they tried to breach the border fence, Gaza medics and the Israeli army said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected an idea from France that would see international observers sent to Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Clashes at the compound between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in September preceded the current wave of violence.

Muslims fear Israel will seek to change rules governing the site, located in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

The site is sacred to Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. Jews are allowed to visit but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions, and Netanyahu has said repeatedly he has no intention of changing the rules.

"Israel cannot accept the French draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council," Netanyahu said.

Checkpoints have been set up in Palestinian areas of east Jerusalem, where many of the attackers have come from, and some 300 soldiers on Sunday began reinforcing police.

Israeli police also began erecting a wall between Palestinian village Jabel Mukaber and Jewish neighbourhood Armon Hanatziv to protect it from firebomb and stone attacks.

Most of the attackers have been young Palestinians wielding knives and believed to be acting on their own.

Including alleged assailants, 41 Palestinians have been killed since the upsurge in violence began on October 1, while eight Israelis have died.

Violent protests have also erupted in east Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.