A half-year-long surge in Palestinian street attacks against Israelis is waning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, while Hamas accused the U.S.-backed Palestinian leadership of treachery for helping Israel stem the violence.
Since October, Palestinians have killed 28 Israelis and two U.S. citizens in knife, car-ramming and gun assaults. In recent weeks, these have slowed from near-daily occurrences to more sporadic incidents. The last fatal attack took place on March 9.
During this wave of violence, Israeli forces killed at least 190 Palestinians, 129 of whom Israel says were assailants. Many others were shot dead during clashes and protests. Palestinians and foreign critics have accused Israel of excessive force.
Drivers behind the bloodshed include Palestinian bitterness over long-stalled statehood negotiations, greater Jewish access to a disputed Jerusalem shrine, and Islamist-led calls for Israel’s destruction.
In public remarks to his cabinet, Netanyahu said Israeli security forces’ “very firm action against incitement” and their foiling of assaults had led to “a significant drop-off in the scale of terror attacks”.
But he told the forum: “I say this with great caution, because the trend can be reversed.”
Netanyahu made no mention of Israel’s security cooperation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s U.S.-backed administration in the occupied West Bank, where much of the violence has occurred.
Israeli and Palestinian officials on several occasions cited a degree of security cooperation without going into details. Israeli media has reported close monitoring by both sides of social media in a bid to identify would-be assailants.
Many Palestinians regard security cooperation with Israel as collaborating with the enemy.
Palestinian experts say many of the young and often leaderless assailants have lashed out in solidarity with others who were killed carrying out attacks, with social media and cellphone footage of the incidents amplifying popular outrage.
Hamas, the powerful Islamist group that exercises de facto control of the Gaza Strip, on Sunday condemned as “very grave” what it described as the arrest of three West Bank Palestinians by Abbas’s forces on suspicion of planning to attack Israel.
“Such cooperation aims to abort the Palestinian uprising and targets the resistance,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
But Palestinian authorities in the West Bank played down the case, saying the three were tracked down at the request of their families after their went missing.
The last instance of a Palestinian carrying out a fatal attack in Israel occurred on March 9, when an American tourist was stabbed to death in Tel Aviv. The assailant was killed.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky)