JERUSALEM, Oct 24 — PLO Executive Committee Member Dr. Saeb Erekat on Thursday slammed the Israeli government for making “unfounded and inflammatory accusations” after Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu implied Palestinian responsibility for a hit-in-run in Jerusalem the day before that left one dead.
“By recklessly claiming that President Abbas is inciting terrorism, Mr. Netanyahu has turned his back on peace,” he told reporters in Ramallah.
“He called the situation in East Jerusalem ‘intolerable’ without mentioning his government’s recent provocations that have inflamed the political situation.”
“Mr. Netanyahu and his extremist government coalition continue to refuse the minimum requirements for peace, including acceptance of the two-state solution. Instead of pursuing peace, his government systematically violates international law in order to consolidate its Apartheid regime in Palestine,” he added.
The statements come as Israeli police launched a wide-ranging crackdown across Palestinian neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem after a Palestinian man drove his car into a crowd of Jewish Israelis at the Ammunition Hill light rail stop, killing a baby and injuring six.
The driver, 21-year-old Abd al-Rahman al-Shaludi from Silwan in East Jerusalem, was shot while trying to flee the car on foot and later died of his injuries.
It was not immediately clear, however, if the incident was intentional, and al-Shaludi’s family maintains the youth hit the crowd after losing control of the vehicle.
Israel said al-Shaludi was a Hamas activist, but although family members confirmed he was the nephew of a top Hamas bombmaker who was killed 1998, it was not clear whether he himself belonged to the Islamist movement.
The incident triggered clashes between police and stone-throwing Palestinians across occupied East Jerusalem which lasted into the early hours. Police confirmed arrests but would not give a number.
By Thursday morning, following an order from Netanyahu, police surged into flashpoint neighborhoods in a bid to stamp out a wave of persistent unrest that began nearly four months ago.
Palestinians, however, decried Israeli “double standards” regarding the incident, as the response contrasted sharply with an incident on Sunday when an Israeli settler struck two Palestinian girls and killed 5-year-old Einas Khalil in the northern West Bank.
‘Seeds of desperation’
Chief Palestinian negotiator Erekat condemned Netanyahu’s attempts to blame the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas for the incident, instead highlighting the variety of provocations engaged by Israeli authorities that he said led to widespread Palestinian anger.
He noted that Israeli authorities have allowed Jewish settlers to take over homes in Palestinian neighborhoods, have announced plans to build thousands of units for Jews in the city while ignoring Palestinian residents, and have generally looked the other way at rising violence by Jewish civilians against Palestinians across the city.
“We regret all loss of life. At the same time we reiterate that the Israeli occupation of Palestine remains the main source of violence and instability in the region. Palestinian citizens continue to be oppressed, imprisoned, injured and killed by the occupation forces, with impunity and the full backing of the Israeli government,” he said.
Erekat’s comments came after Netanyahu lashed out at Abbas, accusing him of encouraging attacks in the city.
“Jerusalem is coming under attack by terror … and this attack is supported by the chairman of the Palestinian Authority,” he said in his second attack on Abbas since the fatal incident.
On Wednesday evening he accused the Palestinian leader of “inciting a terrorist attack in Jerusalem.”
But Erekat accused Netanyahu of turning a blind eye to Israel’s provocative actions in the city’s strife-hit east.
“The man, once he looks at the mirror … should know who’s responsible for the miserable situation of Palestinians and Israelis, the escalation of violence and so on,” he told reporters in Ramallah.
“He plants the seeds of desperation.”
Family members said al-Shaludi had been recently released from prison where he served 14 months for disturbing the peace, a euphemism for participating in unrest.
Palestinian community officials say the wave of unrest gripping the city is fueled by a sense of hopelessness resulting from Israel’s policies in occupied East Jerusalem, which have left many young people with a sense that they have nothing to lose.
Although Palestinians in East Jerusalem live within territory Israel has unilaterally annexed, they lack citizenship rights and are instead classified only as “residents” whose permits can be revoked if they move away from the city for more than a few years.
They face discrimination in all aspects of life including housing, employment, and services, and are unable to access services in the West Bank due to the construction of Israel’s separation wall.
Anger has also been fueled by widespread discontent at the Israeli offensive on Gaza that killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians dead and injured more than 11,000.
East Jerusalem is internationally recognized as Palestinian territory, but Israel occupied it in 1967 and later annexed it in a move never considered legitimate abroad.
‘Zero tolerance policy’
Unrest has gripped the eastern part of the city on an almost daily basis for the past four months, flaring up in particular after a group of Jewish settlers kidnapped and killed a young Palestinian on the basis of his ethnicity and fueled by nightly police arrest raids and attacks that have netted hundreds and injured many others.
Police warned Thursday they had adopted a “zero tolerance” policy toward any incident of violence in the city, pledging to prosecute offenders to the fullest extent.
Police officials said they had activated “a strategic plan” to end the wave of unrest, which would include aerial observation and the deployment of extra forces on the ground, some of them undercover.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said there was no choice but to flood flashpoint neighborhoods with police to return calm.
“The situation in East Jerusalem is intolerable … Today it is clearer than ever that we have to deploy police into neighborhoods where there are disturbances to stabilize them,” a statement said.
Washington denounced Wednesday’s attack as “despicable” and called for both sides to demonstrate restraint to “avoid escalating tensions,” but did not confirm reports that the infant who was killed had US nationality.
The victim, three-month-old Haya Zissel Braun, was buried at a late-night funeral in Jerusalem.
Settlements ‘fanning the flames’
Much of Palestinian anger over Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem has focused on Silwan — a densely populated Arab neighborhood on a steep hillside just south of the Old City.
The neighborhood hit the headlines in the past month after settlers acquired another 35 apartments there, triggering outrage from the Palestinians and condemnation from Washington.
Several Israeli commentators said that settlement expansion in Silwan had inflamed anger ignited in early July after the grisly murder of a local teenager by Jewish extremists.
“Since the murder, the area … has been on the brink of anarchy,” wrote Alex Fishman in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper.
“The Israeli establishment did its part in fanning the flames of the growing anarchy — Jews going to live in Silwan (and) forbidding Muslims from entering the Temple Mount during Jewish holidays,” he wrote of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a site which is holy to both faiths.
“The government must stop permitting private (Jewish settlement) organizations from invading neighborhoods in East Jerusalem,” commentator Shimon Shiffer wrote in the same paper.
“If they continue to do this, it is reasonable to assume that the Palestinian reaction will escalate.”