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Amid growing unrest, Israel demolishes dead militants' homes

JERUSALEM - The Israeli military on Tuesday demolished the homes of two Palestinian militants in east Jerusalem, the army's first concrete steps following a late night Cabinet meeting in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a "strong hand" to quell recent deadly attacks.

The demolitions come amid weeks of heightened Palestinian unrest in east Jerusalem and the West Bank and a bloody holiday weekend in which four Israelis were killed in shooting and stabbing attacks. Israeli forces have killed four Palestinians amid violent protests.

The violence threatens a new Israeli-Palestinian escalation at a time when a political solution to the conflict is increasingly distant and Palestinian frustrations are mounting after years of diplomatic paralysis.

The homes demolished early Tuesday belonged to the families of a man who killed four worshippers and a police officer in a Jerusalem synagogue last year, and a second attacker who killed one person when he rammed a bulldozer into traffic. Although the attackers were immediately killed, Israel often carries out such demolitions of the homes of militants' families, believing it will deter future attacks.

Also Tuesday, troops sealed off a room at the home of a third attacker, who tried to kill a prominent Orthodox Jewish activist last year, ahead of its potential demolition.

"If Netanyahu thinks that this will create deterrence, then he is wrong. This will not deter anybody," said Odai Hijazi, whose brother Motaz shot and seriously wounded Yehuda Glick, a Jewish nationalist who has campaigned for greater Jewish access to a sensitive Jerusalem holy site.

Israel has also deployed thousands more troops in its West Bank crackdown and Netanyahu is under intense domestic pressure to do more. Thousands of Israelis, including three ministers in his own government, demonstrated outside the prime minister's home on Monday night, demanding tough action.

The rash of violence began Thursday when Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli couple in their car near a settlement in the West Bank as their four children watched from the backseat.

Two days later, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli man to death, seriously wounded his wife and lightly injuring their 2-year-old toddler as they walked in Jerusalem's Old City. He proceeded to stab another Israeli man to death and then opened fire at tourists and police before he was shot and killed by policemen who had rushed to the scene.

Israeli forces killed another Palestinian assailant over the weekend and on Monday the troops shot dead two teenagers - including a 13-year-old boy - who were throwing stones during clashes with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank.

Undercover Israeli troops later raided a Nablus hospital and nabbed a wounded Palestinian suspected of killing the Israeli couple.

Israeli intelligence said the Palestinian gunman had been accidentally shot by his friend as they killed the Israelis in Thursday's drive-by shooting, prompting them to flee the scene and likely saving the lives of the four children in the back seat.

After visiting the site of that attack, Netanyahu pledged on Tuesday that his country will "break this wave of terror like we broke previous waves of terror."

He instructed the military to "change the way of thinking" about Palestinian attackers and said Israel will deploy ground and aerial cameras along major West Bank routes along with other measures to help prevent further such attacks.

In Jerusalem itself, tensions have also been high in recent weeks over a major shrine that is sacred to Muslims and Jews and is central to the rival national narratives by the two sides.

The hilltop compound is revered by Muslims as the spot where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and by Jews as the site of the two Jewish biblical Temples. There have been several days of clashes at the site over the past few weeks as Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa mosque while hurling stones, firebombs and fireworks at police.

The unrest later spread to Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and to the West Bank, where they continued Tuesday with thousands hurling rocks and clashing with Israeli troops.

Many Palestinians believe that Israel is trying to expand a Jewish presence at the site. Netanyahu denies the claims, describing them as slander aimed at inciting Arabs to violence. He has also accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of personally inciting by spreading lies and refusing to condemn the recent attacks.

Abbas on Tuesday said he had no interest in an "escalation" and was ready to talk with Israel. At a meeting of top Palestinian officials, Abbas said he has told the Israelis the Palestinians don't want "military and security escalations."

He said the message has been delivered to Palestinian security forces and activists but added that, "at the same time, we will protect ourselves."

In a related development, Israel Radio reported Tuesday that it had obtained official Palestinian government documents confirming hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to prisoners convicted in some of the deadliest attacks on Israelis.

Palestinians have long acknowledged paying support to the families of prisoners held by Israel, but payments personally to prisoners convicted in deadly attacks have never been made public.

Israel Radio claims the documents show hefty sums given to those serving multiple life sentences in Israeli prisons, including Hamas militants behind suicide bombings that killed dozens of Israelis.

Israeli officials said the money trail was another sign of Palestinian encouragement of violence.

Ashraf al-Ajrami, a former Palestinian minister for prisoners, confirmed the report, saying the prisoners are "heroes" and that the money is for the wellbeing of their families.

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