Israeli soldiers shoot dead Palestinians in West Bank, Gaza

Israeli soldiers shoot dead Palestinian armed with a knife in occupied Hebron; protester in Gaza succumbs to wounds after being shot by Israeli soldiers; unrest in occupied East Jerusalem continues.

JERUSALEM - Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian man after he ran towards them with a knife in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Tuesday, the military said.

In the blockaded Gaza Strip, a Palestinian man who was shot by Israeli forces during protests two weeks ago has died after succumbing to his wounds.

And in the walled Old City of occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli police said a firebomb was thrown at a police post, damaging the structure in a sacred compound revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount.

Scuffles broke out at the complex between Israeli police and Palestinians. No serious injuries or damage to holy sites were reported and police said one man was arrested.

'A despicable crime'

A Palestinian man died after being shot by Israeli forces during clashes Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, medics and the Palestinian health ministry said.

The Red Crescent emergency medical services said they evacuated a man wounded during clashes with Israeli forces in Salfit, near Ramallah, with the health ministry pronouncing his death and naming him as Mohammed Shaheen, 23.

The Israeli military had said earlier on Tuesday that another Palestinian, armed with a knife, confronted troops in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron and was shot and killed. It said no soldiers were injured.

The Palestinian higher judicial council identified that man as Yasser al-Sweiki, 40, and said he worked in a Palestinian court in Hebron. The council denounced the shooting as "a despicable crime".

The Palestinian health ministry confirmed the death but provided no details on the incident, saying only the "Israeli occupation opened fire on him".

The incident started near an Israeli military post, the army said.

"Soldiers identified a terrorist armed with a knife running towards them," a spokeswoman said.

A physical confrontation followed, "then he ran toward a nearby building while still armed with a knife", she said.

"The soldiers then fired towards him, thwarted the attack and he was killed."

No soldiers were wounded, the spokeswoman said.

Palestinians began a wave of knife and car-ramming attacks targeting Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank and in Israel in 2015, after peace talks with Israel collapsed. Such incidents have become more sporadic.

Israeli occupying forces, who are heavily armed and frequently act as guards to Jewish settlers - who are often armed as well - have been accused of responding with excessive force.

Locals told Palestinian media that after Sweiki was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers, they dragged his body into a building that is under the control of Jewish settlers.

Tensions run particularly high in Hebron, where several hundred Jewish settlers live in the city centre under the protection of the occupying Israeli army, among around 200,000 Palestinians.

It is also the location of a key holy site known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque and to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

All Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law.

Shot in the back

A Palestinian shot by Israeli forces in protests on the Gaza border nearly two weeks ago has succumbed to his wounds, the enclave's health ministry said Tuesday.

Mousa Mohammed Mousa, 23, was injured on March 1 in clashes along the border, ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said in a statement.

He said Mousa had been shot in the back east of al-Bureij in central Gaza.

For nearly a year, protesters have been gathering along the frontier in often violent protests calling for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be allowed to return to former homes now inside Israel.

Israeli officials say that amounts to calling for the destruction of the 'Jewish state', and accuse the Gaza Strip's Islamist rulers Hamas of orchestrating the protests.

At least 255 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the movement began in March 2018, the majority shot during weekly border demonstrations and clashes.

Others have been hit by tank fire or air strikes in response to violence from Gaza, including projectiles fired at Israeli towns and incendiary kites targeting farmland across the frontier.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period.

A UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory investigated possible violations by Israeli forces during the demonstrations in Gaza between March 30 and December 31 last year.

It found that Israeli security forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in killing 189 Palestinians and wounding more than 6,100 by sniper fire at the weekly protests. 

It said Israeli soldiers targeted unarmed protesters - including medical personnel, reporters, disabled people and children - with sniper fire.

Israeli officials immediately dismissed the UN report as 'biased' against Israel.

Israel and Hamas, which has controlled the blockaded Gaza Strip for over a decade, have fought three wars since 2008.

Frequent flashpoint

Israeli police on Tuesday closed the entrances to Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site after Palestinian suspects threw a firebomb at a police station.

There were no injuries reported from the firebombing. But police quickly deployed across the hilltop compound, scuffling with Palestinians in the area, as they searched for the assailants. Three suspects were arrested, and police were seen wrestling a woman to the ground.

The incident further heightened tensions at the site, which is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The spot, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and gold-topped Dome of the Rock, is a frequent flashpoint of violence.

After the incident, Israeli police sealed off entrances to the compound. Police also restricted entrance to the occupied Old City, home to Jerusalem's most important religious sites, allowing only residents to pass through certain entrances to the Muslim and Christian quarters. Other entrances to the Old City remained open.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the "dangerous Israeli escalation" and warned of "serious repercussions." In a statement, he called on the international community to intervene.

Tensions in the holy compound in Jerusalem, part of the eastern sector of the city seized by Israel in the 1967 war, have risen in recent weeks after Muslim worshippers reopened an area known as the "Gate of Mercy," which was sealed by Israel during a Palestinian uprising in 2003.

The Waqf, a Jordanian appointed body that oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, has staged periodic prayer-protests since late February to call for the reopening of the shuttered building.

Israel said it closed the structure because it was used by a heritage organization with ties to Hamas. The Waqf contends that because that heritage group is now defunct, the council should regain full access to the building like any other in the holy esplanade.

Demonstrations have devolved into standoffs with police in recent weeks. Israel has barred several guards and high-ranking officials from the Waqf from the compound and arrested dozens of Palestinians.

Officials in Jordan, which is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, have confirmed that they are in negotiations with Israel to resolve the dispute. Abbas' office said the Palestinians also were in touch with various sides, including Jordan.

Palestinians want the West Bank, also in Israeli hands since 1967, to be part of an independent state along with the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.