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Israel Steps Up Security After Deaths Of 8 Israelis, Palestinians


Over just the past five days, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has claimed eight lives - four Israeli and four Palestinian, including, today, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy. This spike in deaths comes after several weeks of heightened tensions and violence and after Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced at the U.N. that he is no longer bound to uphold agreements with Israel. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for stepped-up security and for increases in punishments. For context and for what might come next, we turn now to NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem. Hi, Emily.


SIEGEL: And first, tell us about the deaths. Who was killed in what circumstances?

HARRIS: The first of this recent spike outraged a lot of Israelis because it was a mother and a father - Israeli settlers on the West Bank. And they were shot in their car in front of their four children. The children survived. That was Thursday.

Then Saturday, a 19-year-old Palestinian man stabbed two Israelis to death in Jerusalem. Israeli police killed him. Police also killed another young Palestinian man who stabbed and wounded an Israeli later that night. Sunday, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian in clashes in the West Bank, and then today, Israeli troops killed that 13-year-old Palestinian boy at a clash in Bethlehem also in the West Bank.

SIEGEL: Now, arrests were announced in the first case that you mentioned - the Israeli settler couple killed in front of their children. What's known about the suspects?

HARRIS: The military and police say that it was a Hamas cell that was operating in the West Bank. They announced just today that they had arrested five lead suspects the day after the attack and a number of other people they say were involved the case, and they're still interrogating them.

SIEGEL: And when Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks of stepped-up security, what's he calling for actually?

HARRIS: You know, he's mostly calling for them to practices that Israel typically applies in these cases of escalated tensions - for example, more police presence, longer detentions for suspects, more quickly demolishing the homes of Palestinians who are suspected of carrying out violence. Israel sees this as a deterrent.

Netanyahu's also calling for more restrictions on Palestinian access to Jerusalem's old city and the holy site that's at the heart, in many ways, of this spate of violence. That's that area in the center of the old city where the Al-Aqsa mosque is and that Jewish people call the Temple Mount.

SIEGEL: Now, on to Palestinian authority Mahmoud Abbas's announcement at the U.N. that he's no longer bound to uphold agreements with Israel. If he were to stop honoring agreements with Israel, would that have any effect on the situation?

HARRIS: It potentially could have a significant effect, but the real question is whether he will actually take any actions that would match the words that he put out at the U.N. Palestinian analysts and officials said right after that speech he made that we'll have to wait and see. The biggest issue is what's called security coordination. The Palestinian police in the West Bank work with Israeli police in certain circumstances. And this is useful for both Israel and Abbas, particularly in keeping, for example, the threat of Hamas under some control in the West Bank. But it also contributes to a feeling that many Palestinians have of alienation from their leadership. If that were to stop, nobody really knows what would happen.

SIEGEL: Things don't sound very good there, Emily. How would you describe feelings on the streets of Jerusalem these days?

HARRIS: I would say it's tense here. I walked through the old city this morning. It was the second day that no Palestinians were allowed in unless they lived or worked there. Police were everywhere. Israelis are very worried about security. Palestinians I spoke to were frustrated with what they see as Israeli incursions, they call them, to the holy site that we spoke about before.

This may lessen now that several weeks of Jewish holidays are over, but feelings had been rising before that. In particular, many Palestinians have asked me why Israel can find the perpetrators who kill Jews but, for example, have not found the people who firebombed a Palestinian home in the West Bank in July that killed three out of four family members.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem. Emily, thank you.

HARRIS: Thanks, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.

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