BEKAOT CHECKPOINT, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli troops shot dead on Saturday two Palestinians who tried to stab soldiers at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank, the military said, as a surge in violence showed no sign of abating.
Now in its fourth month, the wave of bloodshed has raised fears of wider escalation a decade after the last Palestinian uprising subsided.
The military said in a statement the two Palestinians had tried to stab soldiers at Bekaot checkpoint.
“The forces thwarted the attack and shot the assailants,” it said.
The Palestinian Health Ministry confirmed the two men were dead.
A Palestinian taxi driver, who asked not be identified, disputed the military’s account, saying the men had not got out of their vehicle.
“We were three cars awaiting our turn to cross, the two men who were killed were in the car ahead of mine. The soldiers signalled to them to come forward. When they got there, they opened fire at the car,” he said.
A military spokeswoman, asked about the taxi driver’s account, said the incident was still being reviewed.
Since Oct. 1 Israeli forces or armed civilians have killed at least 139 Palestinians, 89 of whom authorities described as assailants. Most others have been killed in clashes with security forces.
Palestinian stabbing, car-ramming and shooting attacks have killed 21 Israelis and a U.S. citizen. That number will rise if authorities deem a Jan. 1 Tel Aviv shooting that killed three people as a pro-Palestinian attack.
“NATIONALISTIC, TERRORIST ATTACK”
Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan indicated that was indeed the motive of the shooter, an Israeli Arab citizen who was killed in a shootout with police on Friday after a week-long manhunt. Palestinian militant groups have mourned him as a martyr.
“The assessment forming is that this was a nationalistic terrorist attack,” Erdan told Channel Two News.
Commentators say the surge in violence has been fuelled by the 2014 collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace talks, the growth of Jewish settlements on land Palestinians want for a state and Islamist calls for the destruction of Israel.
Also stoking the violence has been Muslim opposition to increased Israeli visits to Jerusalem’s al Aqsa mosque complex, which is the third holiest site in Islam and is also revered in Judaism as the location of two biblical temples.
Arabs, most of them Muslim, make up 20 percent of Israel’s population. They seldom take up arms against the Jewish majority, though they often identify as Palestinian.
Reporting by Ali Sawafta, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Gareth Jones