Trump peace plan leads to spike in violence, casualties

Donald Trump's peace initiative inflames tensions between Israelis, Palestinians and raises fears of a return to regular, deadly violence amid a new spate of attacks and clashes.

JERUSALEM - A spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence on Thursday left at least three Palestinians killed and a dozen Israeli troops wounded in a rash of attacks and clashes a week after the Trump administration released its long-anticipated Mideast plan.

The new spate of attacks places the plan — which was already considered a long-shot because it greatly favors Israel and was rejected outright by the Palestinians — on even shakier ground, and sparked fears of a return to deadly violence of the past.

A car-ramming targeting Israeli troops in Jerusalem wounded 14 people, in an attack that Palestinian Islamist group Hamas hailed as a response to Washington's controversial initiative. A manhunt was underway for the driver who fled the scene outside a popular Jerusalem entertainment spot.

In the West Bank, two Palestinians died after clashes broke out with Israeli troops, according to Palestinian hospital officials.

Israeli police also said they shot dead a gunman who opened fire on officers in Jerusalem's Old City later on Thursday.

"A terrorist opened fire at a border policeman. One policeman was injured lightly in the shooting," Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, adding that the assailant was then "shot and killed" by police.

The earlier car-ramming attack occurred shortly before 2:00 am outside the First Station, an historic Ottoman-era railway terminus that has been turned into a cultural and entertainment centre with bars and restaurants.

The attacker struck in the street outside where the soldiers had been marching, the army said. One of the soldiers was "severely injured" and has been evacuated to hospital.

Public radio said the Israeli soldiers were new recruits on their way to an induction ceremony at Jerusalem's Western Wall, a Jewish religious site. Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the troops were out on a late-night “educational heritage tour” when the motorist rammed his car into them and fled.

"During the incident, a terrorist sped his car towards the soldiers," the army said. Israeli troops "are currently pursuing the terrorist who escaped the scene."

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said "the incident is being investigated as a terror attack."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to have the assailant apprehended. “It's just a matter of time — and not much time,” he said in a statement.

There have been car-rammings targeting Israeli troops in the past, in the occupied West Bank as well as occupied Jerusalem. Such acts of violence were common in Jerusalem during a low-level wave of near-daily attacks over the last decade, but they tapered off and car rammings have become infrequent in recent years.

While it did not claim responsibility for the attack, the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad militant group praised the car ramming as “the beginning of a new confrontation over Trump’s plan.”

The Islamist Hamas movement, which controls Gaza, hailed the car-ramming as a "practical response" to US President Donald Trump's controversial Middle East peace plan.

In a statement, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the attack was part of the "resistance operation" but stopped short of claiming responsibility.

The Palestinians have angrily rejected Donald Trump's peace plan, which unilaterally gives Israel most of what it has sought to achieve through its construction in the West Bank of illegal Jewish settlements.

Sporadic clashes

There have been sporadic clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops since the release of Trump's proposals.

In the northern West Bank town of Jenin, Israeli forces shot dead 19-year-old Yazan Abu Tabikh on Thursday, in an incident that left seven others wounded. 

Conricus said Israeli troops were carrying out the demolition of a home in the West Bank belonging to a militant allegedly involved in a deadly attack.

He said there was a “sizable riot” at the scene by Palestinians who threw Molotov cocktails at troops, who then came under sniper fire. Conricus said forces responded to the violence with their own sniper fire, saying a Palestinian shooter was killed.

Jenin governor Akram Rajoub said the 19-year-old casualty was a student at an academy that trains budding police officers, and was throwing stones at the troops.

In a separate incident also in Jenin, a member of the Palestinian security forces who was shot by Israeli troops later died.

The army said troops had "identified a number of armed terrorists who hurled explosive devices and fired towards them. The forces responded with riot dispersal means."

That violence came just hours after Israeli forces shot and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian in the flashpoint city of Hebron during demonstrations on Wednesday.

Israeli military described the teenager as a "violent rioter" armed with a Molotov cocktail who posed a threat to troops.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli aircraft struck Hamas positions early Thursday, after Palestinians fired rockets or mortar rounds at Israel and launched incendiary balloons.

"Fighter jets and (other) aircraft targeted Hamas terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip," an army statement said.

Since Trump's plan was announced, there has been almost daily fire from Gaza into southern Israel, drawing Israeli retaliation. There have been no reported casualties.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip but is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States, has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

Trump's proposals gave Israel the green light to annex settlements and other territory in the occupied West Bank, while also recognising the occupied city of Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital.

It demanded that Hamas disarm and that Gaza be handed over to the the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. Palestinians of all factions rejected Trump's plan, accusing him of bias towards Israel.

In an interview published on Hamas's official website Thursday, the group's leader Ismail Haniya rejected calls to disarm and said the group would "continue in our strategy of building up force, including in the West Bank and Jerusalem, until we can liberate our homeland."