Mideast Tense After New Violence and Threats

July 7, 2008 - 8:09 PM

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Tensions were running high in Israel Monday, with new attacks and threats of terrorism against Israelis.

Six Palestinian militants wanted by the Israelis were killed in a powerful explosion in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank overnight.

And Jerusalem police were on high alert against the threat of a terrorist attack in the city a day after rioting erupted on the Temple Mount, the most contested site in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Six members of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction were killed when a tin shack they were in near Jenin blew up.

Initially, Palestinian sources blamed the blast on tank fire from a nearby Israeli settlement. But the Palestinian governor of Jenin and other eyewitnesses were quoted as saying it was not clear what caused the blast. The roof had been blown off the tiny structure, suggesting the explosion may have occurred within.

The Israeli army refused to comment, but an Israeli source said that it seemed that the blast had occurred when the men were working with explosions. Israel was "not involved there," the source said.

The PA has accused Israel of liquidating some 40 activists in helicopter missile strikes or other assaults during the uprising launched last September.

Recently, Israel accepted responsibility publicly for at least one of those of killings. Under fire internationally, it has defended its policy of targeting militants in instances where the army says terrorists are ready to carry out an attack.

Other Palestinians have died, Israel says, in what officials call "work accidents" - unexplained blasts occurring while Palestinians are preparing explosives or bombs.

All six dead men, aged 18 to 27, were on a list of militants Israel has demanded the PA arrest. Three were reportedly involved in an attack on an Israeli bus last fall.

'Worrisome'

Also on Monday, several mortar shells were fired at two Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, lightly injuring a seven-year-old girl.

In the West Bank, gunmen fired on an Israeli bus, lightly injuring the driver in the leg. A roadside bomb was detonated alongside a bus carrying children. No one was injured.

Army spokesman Lt.-Col. Olivier Rafowicz said there had been an "increased attempt from Palestinians in the terrorist field" to carry out attacks - "a very worrisome situation."

In Jerusalem, where police were on extremely high alert against the possibility of terrorism, a small bomb exploded in the city center at midday. No casualties were reported.

Earlier, a bomb was found on a Jerusalem commuter bus, hidden inside a watermelon. Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy warned terrorists were using "sophisticated means that are less noticeable to the eye."

Mount

Adding to the tensions, Palestinian stone-throwers clashed with police on the Temple Mount on Sunday, spurred on by rumors that a small far-right group intended to lay a cornerstone for a new Jewish temple there.

Earlier the PA, Islamic Movement and Israeli Arab lawmakers called on Palestinians to come to the site to defend the mosques on the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Shariff.

The Temple Mount Faithful regularly applies for permission on Jewish holidays to lay the 4.5-ton cornerstone at the site, holy to both Jews and Muslims.

Sunday was Tisha B'Av, the day when Jewish people remember the destruction of two consecutive Temples at the site. Both are believed to have been destroyed on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, in the years 586 BC and 70 AD respectively.

The Temple Mount Faithful were refused permission by an Israeli court to approach the Mount, but held a ceremony at the Western Wall below, the last remnant of a retaining wall of the Temple and a place of Jewish pilgrimage for centuries.

The ceremony was over when Palestinians on the Mount began to throw rocks at Jews praying at the Wall.

Police then stormed the summit compound, using stun grenades stop the stone throwing. Fifteen policemen and 20 Palestinians were lightly injured in the ensuing clashes.

The Temple Mount is among the most explosive issues dividing Israel and the PA. Two prominent mosques now sit atop the site where the Jewish temples once stood.