Palestinians set fire to a Jewish shrine in the occupied West Bank and an attacker disguised as a journalist stabbed an Israeli soldier as tensions ran high after more than two weeks of violence.
Israel’s military said about 100 people converged on the tomb of the biblical patriarch Joseph in the Palestinian city of Nablus and set parts of it ablaze before Palestinian security forces arrived and pushed them back.
Hours later, a Palestinian posing as a journalist wounded an Israeli soldier with a knife before being shot dead near the town of Hebron, the Israeli military added.
Reuters television footage showed the Palestinian rolling on the ground and surrounded by Israeli troops after the attack. He was holding a knife and wearing a fluorescent yellow vest over a t-shirt marked ‘PRESS’.
The foreign press association in Israel and the Palestinian territories said it deplored the attack and called on Palestinian media organisations to verify all staff credentials.
A military statement about the shrine attack said: “We view this incident with gravity and strongly condemn any attack on holy sites. We will find and arrest those who set the fire.”
The shrine has been venerated for centuries by Jews, Samaritans, Christians and Muslims as the burial site of Joseph, the 11th son of the biblical patriarch Jacob. The Book of Genesis relates that Joseph’s jealous older brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, where he rose to become a powerful adviser to the pharaoh.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack. He ordered the damage to be repaired and opened an investigation into the arson.
A statement from his office said Abbas “stressed his rejection of these actions and all actions that violate law and order, and which distort our culture, our morals and our religion”.
Violence also broke out in the Gaza Strip when Palestinians approached the border fence with Israel. They threw stones at soldiers, who opened fire, killing a Palestinian and wounding 27 others, Palestinian medical officials said.
The Israeli military said hundreds of people gathered along the border, some hurling rocks and burning tyres at the fence. A military spokeswoman said troops “are operating to prevent further escalation of violence using riot dispersal means and firing towards main instigators.”
The unrest has erupted mostly in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank and is the most serious in years, claiming the lives of 35 Palestinians and seven Israelis.
The Palestinian dead include 11 knife-wielding assailants, police said, as well as children and protesters shot during demonstrations. One man died in Gaza on Friday from wounds sustained in a clash a week ago.
The Israelis were killed in random attacks in the street or on buses.
The UN Security Council will hold a special meeting to discuss the situation. No resolution is planned for Friday, but there might be an attempt to get the council to issue a statement urging the two sides to curb the violence.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, called for “rallies of anger and confrontations” on Friday in all West Bank cities.
“Our decision is to pursue the Intifada (uprising) and continue the resistance against the Israeli occupation,” said Ismail Haniyeh, the group’s leader in Gaza.
The unrest 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 also revered by Jews as the location of two destroyed biblical Jewish temples.
The director-general of Israel’s foreign ministry, Dore Gold, said: “The burning of Joseph’s tomb forcefully demonstrates what would happen in the holy places in Jerusalem if they were in the hands of the Palestinian leadership.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry has said he plans to travel to the Middle East soon to try to calm the violence.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was ready to meet Abbas to help restore calm.