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Sunday, December 11, 2016

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) — Israel bristled on Thursday at U.S. suggestions it may have used excessive force to confront Palestinian stabbings, and also published hospital images it said refuted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s allegation a teen suspect had been “executed”.>

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon accused Washington of “misreading” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying shooting knife-wielding Palestinians was self-defense. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called the U.S. remarks “foolish”.

With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry due to travel to the Middle East soon to try to calm the violence, Israeli officials said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly ordered cabinet ministers to say no more publicly about the latest acrimony in a long-troubled relationship with the Obama administration.

Thirty-two Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed in the past two weeks of bloodshed. The Palestinian dead include 10 knife-wielding assailants, police said, as well as children and protesters shot in violent demonstrations.

The violence has been triggered in part by Palestinians’ anger over what they see as increased Jewish encroachment on Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is Islam’s holiest site outside Saudi Arabia and is also revered by Jews as the location of two destroyed biblical Jewish temples.

At a daily press briefing on Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Israel, which has set up roadblocks in Palestinian neighborhoods of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem to try to stem attacks, has a right and responsibility to protect its citizens.

He added: “Now, we have seen some – I wouldn’t call the checkpoints this – but we’ve certainly seen some reports of what many would consider excessive use of force.

“Obviously, we don’t like to see that, and we want to see restrictions that are elevated in this time of violence to be as temporary as possible if they have to be enacted,” Kirby said, without citing specific incidents.

Asked on Army Radio about the remarks, Yaalon said: “Are we exercising excessive force? If someone wields a knife and they kill him, is that excessive force? What are we talking about?”

PALESTINIAN ALLEGATIONS

Kirby’s comments touched a nerve in Israel, especially after allegations by Abbas, in a televised speech in Arabic on Wednesday, that Israeli forces were “executing our sons in cold blood, as they did with this child, Ahmed Manasra, and other children in Jerusalem and other places in Palestine”.

Many Palestinians were incensed by amateur video that had shown Manasra, 13, lying on the street in Pisgat Zeev, a Jewish settlement on the northern edge of Jerusalem, with blood coming from his head. Israeli police said that he and a cousin stabbed two Israelis there on Monday.

The 15-year-old cousin was shot dead, and Israel said that day that Manasra was alive and taken to hospital after being hit by a car during the attack. On Thursday, after Abbas’s address, Israel’s Government Press Office released a video, without sound, showing a youth it identified as Manasra being spoon-fed in a bed in Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital. A doctor said he could be discharged soon.

Hours after the Israeli roadblocks went up on Wednesday, a Palestinian stabbed and wounded a 70-year-old woman outside Jerusalem’s central bus station before a police officer shot him dead.

Palestinian officials describe the roadblocks as collective punishment.

Prior to the bus station incident, another Palestinian was shot dead after he attempted to stab paramilitary police at an entrance to Jerusalem’s walled Old City, police said.

Israel has deployed 300 soldiers in Jerusalem and throughout the country to try to stop the most serious eruption of Palestinian street attacks since an uprising in 2000-2005.

Many Palestinians are frustrated with the failure of years of peace diplomacy meant to bring them statehood and end Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

The powerful Islamist group Hamas, which advocates Israel’s destruction, has been vocal in supporting the current attacks, and it called for “rallies of anger and confrontations” to be held in West Bank cities after Friday Muslim prayers.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Ori Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Photo: Thirteen-year-old Ahmed Manasra, a Palestinian from Beit Hanina in northern Jerusalem, sits in his hospital bed at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, in this handout picture released from the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) October 15, 2015. REUTERS/GPO/Handout via Reuters