Death toll hits 30 in recent wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence

JERUSALEM - What began as a disagreement over access to a Jerusalem holy site important to Jews, Christians and Muslims has erupted into a massive outpouring of violence that has so far killed 25 Palestinians and 5 Israelis.

A Palestinian man attacked an Israeli officer with a knife Monday at the entrance to Jerusalem's Old City and was shot dead by police, Israeli police said, in the latest attack in the recent wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Paramilitary border police officers noticed the Palestinian acting suspiciously and ordered him to take his hand out of his pocket, Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. The man then attacked an officer with a knife, but he was wearing a protective vest and was not injured, she said.

The attack took place near the Lions Gate of Jerusalem's walled Old City on the predominantly Arab eastern side of the city.

The recent wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence has been marked primarily by Palestinian stabbings carried out by young Palestinians with no affiliation to militant groups. The seemingly random nature of the attacks has complicated efforts to predict or prevent them.

The unrest has spread to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded in clashes with Israeli troops.

In recent weeks, at least 25 Palestinians, including nine attackers, have been killed by Israeli forces, while five Israelis have been killed in attacks.

At the start of the month, Palestinians shot two Israeli settlers to death in front of their children in the West Bank. In a separate incident, a Palestinian wielding a knife killed two Israeli men and wounded a mother and toddler in Jerusalem before being shot dead. An Israeli motorist was previously killed when his car was pelted with stones on the eve of the Jewish New Year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed the violence on incitement by groups including the Islamic Movement, which runs religious and educational services for Muslims in Israel. Netanyahu is seeking sanctions on the group, which has led a campaign accusing Israel of plotting to take over a sacred Old City compound revered by both Jews and Muslims, a claim Israel denies.

The Jerusalem hilltop compound lies at the heart of recent tensions. It's revered by Muslims as the spot where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and by Jews as the site of the two Jewish biblical Temples.

Many Palestinians believe Israel is trying to expand Jewish presence at the site, a claim Israel adamantly denies and considers slanderous. Under a longstanding arrangement administered by Islamic authorities, Jews are allowed to visit the site during certain hours but not pray there. The site is under the administrative authority of Jordan.

Israeli police said they have arrested a local leader of the Islamic Movement in the Bedouin Arab town of Rahat in southern Israel who was suspected of organizing a group of protesters who vandalized security cameras and other property in the town on Friday, as demonstrations have been taking place in predominantly Arab cities throughout Israel.

The European Union's top diplomat, foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, told Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in phone calls Sunday evening to avoid action that could increase tensions, and called on the sides to agree on "substantial steps which would improve the situation on the ground" and lead to renewed peace talks, according to an E.U. statement.

Marwan Barghouti, a popular figure among Palestinians who was convicted of planning deadly attacks on Israelis and is jailed in Israel, published an op-ed in The Guardian newspaper Sunday saying the cause of recent violence was "denial of Palestinian freedom."

Barghouti, who was arrested in 2002 and is serving five life sentences, is seen as a possible successor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.