Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian knife attacker in Jerusalem

Israeli police have shot dead an attacker who stabbed an Israeli soldier and civilian in Jerusalem. The attack on Monday came with the city still on edge after 11 days of war, and as opposition parties restarted efforts to oust the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with a unity coalition.

It was the latest reminder of how volatile the situation is, barely two weeks after protests and clashes with police escalated into an exchange of rockets and missiles that killed more than 250 people, the vast majority of them Palestinians living in Gaza.

The US president, Joe Biden, announced he was dispatching his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, to Jerusalem and Ramallah to help stabilise the ceasefire. Biden said Blinken would reaffirm Washington’s “ironclad commitment to Israel’s security” but would also aim to rebuild ties to, and support for, the Palestinians “after years of neglect”, a reference to the Trump administration which cut diplomatic links and aid.

Blinken was due to leave on Monday for the four-day trip, in which he will also visit the Egyptian and Jordanian capitals.

At the weekend Israeli police once again clashed with stone-throwing protesters at al-Aqsa compound, one of the holiest sites in Islam, but also sacred to Jews because of temples that stood there in the biblical era.

Monday’s attacker was identified by Palestinian media as a 17-year-old from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Kafr Aqab.

The stabbing took place opposite police headquarters and on the edge of Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, where Jewish settlers’ attempts to evict Palestinian families from their homes have become a focus for national and international protests. Hamas has presented itself as champion of their cause.

Two men in their early 20s were treated in hospital for stab injuries to their upper bodies, the Magen David Adom emergency service said. The military said the soldier was “moderately wounded”.

The ceasefire reached last week was not supported by a majority of Israelis, new polls for Israeli TV stations show. Now it is in place however, attention is shifting back to domestic politics and the race to form an opposition coalition.

A deal must be brokered by 2 June, because opposition leader Yair Lapid’s mandate to form a government will expire then, triggering a general election.

That would be Israel’s fifth in just over five years and many politicians in Israel are desperate to avoid another appeal to jaded voters, but it would be a potential lifeline for Netanyahu, who is facing trial for corruption. He denies all charges.

The battle with Hamas, and the communal violence that broke out across Israel at the same time, appeared to have sunk hopes for a fragile alliance of both far-right Jewish politicians and Arab parliamentarians, as rhetoric escalated along with the attacks.

But the ceasefire may have left Lapid some time and political momentum to try rebuilding his coalition.

Certainly voters don’t seem impressed by the government’s performance. The polls taken for Israeli television channels 12 and 13 showed a majority thought there was no clear victor in the war, and they gave Netanyahu a lower rating than defence minister and rival Benny Gantz for his handling of the conflict.

“The increasingly pervasive sentiment within political corridors the past few days… is that the possibility of forming an alternative government is back on the table in full force,” said Nadav Eyal, writing in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

He identified Naftali Bennett, leader of the Yamina alliance of right and far right parties, as holding the key to an alliance. “Make no mistake, the other members of the pro-change bloc are prepared to forget about the past two weeks and to form a government with Yamina.”

Legislators in Yamina have been talking about joining a coalition, and there are public petitions on WhatsApp from purported grassroots members calling for the same thing. Bennett has criticised Netanyahu online and warned against another election, the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv reported.

“Anyone who drags the country into a fifth election, into more poison and hatred, into another year of political dysfunction, into a tremendous waste of money – is playing into the hands of the people who wish us ill,” he wrote on Facebook.

The conservative Jerusalem Post led its website with an open letter to Lapid and the rightwing politicians who might join his coalition, urging them to form a government that would “take Israel to a higher level than ever”.

It described the Arab-Israeli politician who would be critical to any government, conservative Islamist Mansour Abbas, as “an unexpected ray of light”, after he condemned communal violence by both Jews and Arabs.

Abbas, who leads the United Arab List party, or Ra’am in Hebrew, dropped out of coalition talks when fighting began. He said he might be open to continuing talks when the fighting stopped, but has not clarified his position.

Lapid is seen domestically as a centrist and supports negotiations with the Palestinians, although he also described himself as a “security hawk”. Whoever leads the next government is expected to continue to take a hard line on the continuing occupation over Palestinians.

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