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Four Killed In Jerusalem Truck Attack

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Palestinian rammed his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers on a popular promenade in Jerusalem on Sunday, killing four people and injuring about 15 others in a deliberate attack, police and emergency services said.

Police identified the driver as a Palestinian from Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem and said he was shot dead. A dozen bullet holes pockmarked the windscreen.

It was the deadliest Palestinian attack in Jerusalem in months and targeted officer cadets who were disembarking from a bus that brought them to the Armon Hanatziv promenade, a stone-laden and grass-lined walkway with a panoramic view of the walled Old City.

“It is a terrorist attack, a ramming attack,” a police spokeswoman said.

Police said the dead, three women and one man, were all in their twenties, without identifying them further. Soldiers’ deaths are announced in Israel only after families are notified.

Roni Alsheich, the national police chief, told reporters he could not rule out that the Palestinian was motivated by a truck ramming attack in a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people last month.

“It is certainly possible to be influenced by watching TV but it is difficult to get into the head of every individual to determine what prompted him, but there is no doubt that these things do have an effect,” Alsheich told reporters.

A wave of Palestinian street attacks, including vehicle rammings, has largely slowed but not stopped completely since it began in October 2015.

Security camera footage showed the truck racing towards the soldiers, and then after a gap that apparently included scenes of carnage, reversing into them.

“In a split second I looked to my left and saw what I can only describe as a speeding truck which sent me flying,” a security guard, who was identified only as “A” told Channel 10.

“It was a miracle that my pistol stayed on me. I shot at a tire but realized there was no point as he has many wheels, so I ran in front of the cabin and at an angle I shot at him and emptied my magazine. When I finished shooting, some of the officer cadets also took aim and also started firing.”

The footage showed many of the soldiers fleeing the scene as the attack took place, their rifles slung on their shoulders. Questions were already being raised in the Israeli media why more did not engage the attacker.

Rescue workers said about 15 wounded people were strewn on the street at the promenade as ambulances raced to the scene. The Israeli military regularly takes soldiers on educational tours of Jerusalem, including the Armon Hanatziv vantage point.

Channel 10 television said the soldiers’ tour guide also fired at the assailant.

As a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, which Israel considers part of its capital but the world does not, the truck driver would carry an Israeli identity card and be able to move freely through all of the city.

Palestinian street assaults over the past 15 months have killed at least 37 Israelis and two visiting Americans.

At least 231 Palestinians have been killed in violence in Israel, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip during that period. Israel says at least 157 of them were assailants in lone attacks often targeting security forces and using rudimentary weapons including kitchen knives. Others died during clashes and protests.

Israel says one of the main causes of the violence has been incitement by the Palestinian leadership, with young men encouraged to attack Israeli soldiers and civilians.

The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, denies that allegation, and says assailants have acted out of frustration over Israeli occupation of land Palestinians seek for a state in peace talks stalled since 2014.

Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in Gaza praised Sunday’s attack.

“We bless this heroic operation resisting the Israeli occupation to force it to stop its crimes and violations against our people,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told Reuters.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Maayan Lubell, Ori Lewis and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Stephen Powell)

IMAGE: Israeli soldiers work at the scene where police said a Palestinian rammed his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers on a popular promenade in Jerusalem January 8, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel Pressing Ahead With Settlements Despite U.N. Vote

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Jerusalem municipality, undeterred by a U.N. anti-settlement resolution, is due to consider on Wednesday requests for construction permits for hundreds of new homes for Israelis in areas that Israel captured in 1967 and annexed to the city.

Israel is still fuming over the resolution approved last Friday by the United Nations Security Council that demands an end to settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel has also described as “shameful” the decision of its long-standing ally the United States to abstain in the vote rather than wield its veto. The Obama administration is a strong opponent of the settlements.

An agenda published by Jerusalem City Hall listed applications for at least 390 new homes whose approval looks certain to intensify international and Palestinian opposition to the Israeli settlement-building.

The Municipal Planning and Construction panel usually meets on Wednesdays and the permit requests were filed before the Security Council resolution.

Settler leaders and their supporters have been urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step up construction in East Jerusalem, accusing him of having slowed its pace last year because of international pressure.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported on Tuesday that 1,506 housing units for Israelis have already been approved in East Jerusalem this year, compared with 395 in 2015.

The Jerusalem municipality said in a statement on Tuesday it would “continue to develop the capital according to zoning and building codes, without prejudice, for the benefit of all residents”.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem its united capital, a stance not supported by the international community. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

Some 570,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in settlements that most countries consider to be illegal and the United States terms illegitimate. Israel disputes that, citing historical, political and Biblical links to the areas, as well as security concerns.

The new U.N. resolution changes nothing on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians and will probably be all but ignored by the incoming U.S. administration of Donald Trump.

However, Israeli officials fear it could spur further Palestinian moves against Israel in international forums.

A U.S. official said after Friday’s vote that Washington’s decision to abstain was prompted mainly by concern that Israel would continue to accelerate settlement construction and put a two-state solution of the conflict with the Palestinians at risk.

The U.S.-backed peace talks have been stalled since 2014.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis; Editing by Gareth Jones)

IMAGE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office December 25, 2016. REUTERS/Dan Balilty/Pool

Angered By UN Vote Against Settlements, Israeli PM Summons US Envoy

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday summoned the U.S. ambassador to Israel to discuss the U.S. abstention in a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding an end to settlement-building.

Separately, the envoys of 10 other nations were called in to the Israeli Foreign Ministry to be reprimanded on Sunday, and Netanyahu had more harsh words for Washington over Friday’s U.N. vote.

An Israeli spokesman gave no details of when Netanyahu would meet U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro.

The resolution was passed in the 15-member Security Council because the U.S. broke with its long-standing approach of diplomatically shielding Israel and did not wield its veto power, instead abstaining.

Netanyahu put his personal imprint on Israel’s show of anger by repeating at the weekly cabinet meeting what an unidentified Israeli government official contended on Friday – that the administration of President Barack Obama had conspired with the Palestinians to push for the resolution’s adoption.

The White House has denied the allegation.

“According to our information, we have no doubt the Obama administration initiated it (the resolution), stood behind it, coordinated the wording and demanded it be passed,” Netanyahu told the cabinet in public remarks.

Another official said Netanyahu had ordered that for the coming three weeks, until President-elect Donald Trump takes office, cabinet ministers refrain from traveling to or meeting officials of countries that voted in favor of the resolution.

The envoys from 10 of the 14 countries that voted for the settlements resolution and have embassies in Israel – Britain, China, Russia, France, Egypt, Japan, Uruguay, Spain, Ukraine and New Zealand – were summoned to the Foreign Ministry.

Sunday is a regular work day in Israel, but most embassies are closed, and calling in envoys on Christmas Day is highly unusual.

At the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu described a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday, when Israel and President-elect Donald Trump successfully pressed Egypt to drop the settlements resolution it had put forward.

It was resubmitted a day later by New Zealand, Senegal, Venezuela and Malaysia.

“Over decades American administrations and Israeli governments disagreed about settlements, but we agreed that the security council was not the place to resolve this issue,” Netanyahu said.

“We knew that going there would make negotiations harder and drive peace farther away. As I told John Kerry on Thursday, ‘Friends don’t take friends to the Security Council’,” he said, switching from Hebrew to English.

Israel has pursued a policy of constructing settlements on territory it captured in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbors – the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, areas Palestinians seek for a state.

Most countries view the settlement activity as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees, citing biblical and historical connections to the West Bank and Jerusalem as well as security interests.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis; editing by Andrew Roche)

IMAGE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office December 25, 2016. REUTERS/Dan Balilty/Pool