Israeli troops fired at stone-throwers in West Bank clashes Monday, killing two Palestinian teens and raising fears about an escalation of violence at a time of growing diplomatic friction between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Recent tensions have been stoked by the mounting frustrations of a new generation of Palestinians over nearly half a century of Israeli military rule. Perceptions that Israel is trying to tighten its grip on a major Jerusalem shrine sacred to Muslims and Jews also play a role.
Since late last week, four Israeli civilians were killed in two separate attacks, including a couple shot to death in the West Bank and a man stabbed in Jerusalem's Old City. Israeli forces shot dead two suspected Palestinian assailants. More than 450 Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank over the weekend, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent paramedic service.
On Monday, confrontations erupted in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, and in the northern town of Tulkarem.
In Bethlehem, stone-throwers clashed with Israeli troops near Rachel's Tomb, a frequent flashpoint near where Israel's separation barrier juts into the city.
A doctor at a nearby hospital said 13-year-old, Abdel Rahman Shadi died after being hit by a live bullet to the chest while another Palestinian protester was wounded.
The Israeli military said dozens of Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli soldiers near the site. Troops initially fired tear gas and then responded with live rounds, the army said. It said it was investigating the incident.
Earlier Monday, an 18-year-old Palestinian was killed in clashes in Tulkarem, according to the doctor there. Both he and his colleague in Bethlehem spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The military said hundreds of Palestinians threw firebombs and rocks at soldiers, and rolled burning tires toward them in the Tulkarem clash. The army said troops fired tear gas, stun grenades and then live rounds.
The latest surge of violence comes at a time when most Palestinians no longer believe in the possibility of statehood through negotiations with Israel, following years of failed negotiations.
Vast gaps remain between Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and hard-line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the ground rules of negotiations, and the chances of serious talks are slim.
At the same time, Abbas has not offered his people an alternative path to independence. He opposes violence, and his forces have clamped down on unrest in West Bank areas under his control.
The impasse leaves many Palestinians feeling hopeless. A recent poll indicates that a majority no longer believes in the possibility of statehood in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967.
Meanwhile, tensions have been rising at a key Jerusalem shrine, revered by Muslims as the spot where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and by Jews as the site of their biblical Temples.
The sacred hilltop compound, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, has been a frequent flashpoint for tension and clashes. Its fate is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and central to each side's national narrative.
On Sunday, the Israeli government took unprecedented security measures. It barred Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from entering the walled Old City for two days during a Jewish holiday, in an attempt to curb Palestinian attacks. Palestinians who live, work and study within the Old City, as well as Israelis and tourists, are allowed in.
The Israeli ban came hours after a 19-year-old Palestinian, Muhannad Halabi, attacked an Israeli family as they walked in the Old City, killing the father, seriously wounding the mother and lightly injuring their 2-year-old toddler before stabbing another Israeli man to death. He then opened fire at tourists and police before he was shot and killed by policemen who had rushed to the scene.
Halabi's comments on Facebook prior to the attack, along with a similar post by another attacker, have added to fears and public debate over whether the specter of another Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, is on the horizon.
"What's happening to our holy places? What's happening to our mothers and sisters in the Al-Aqsa mosque," Halabi posted. "We are not the people who accept humiliation. Our people will revolt."
The spike in violence has led some prominent voices to declare that a new Palestinian uprising was looming. Over the weekend, one of Israel's leading newspaper commentators, Nahum Barnea, flatly called the recent violence the "Third Intifada," referring to uprisings in the 1980s and the early 2000s. "Not calling it by name allows the political and military establishment to evade, repress, shirk responsibility," he wrote in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.
Israeli officials, however, insist that Israel is not facing another Intifada but rather a wave of attacks. On Thursday, suspected Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli settler couple in front of their children as they drove in the West Bank.
Netanyahu said Sunday that he would take "additional steps to deter terror and punish terrorists" but did not elaborate.
Israel has accused Palestinian leaders of inciting violence over the Jerusalem holy site, a charge they deny. Abbas called U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the weekend and called for international protection for the Palestinians, according to his office.