Dramatic footage showing members of an elite Israeli army unit disguised as Palestinian stone throwers turning and opening fire on protesters emerged on Wednesday night, as tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank continue to mount.
In the videos, the undercover soldiers — wearing t-shirts, jeans, and keffiyehs wrapped around their faces to blend in — can be seen mingling with a crowd of Palestinian youths hurling rocks at an Israeli checkpoint near Ramallah.
They then turn and shoot handguns in the direction of the crowd. Uniformed soldiers then move in and arrest three men, one of whom appears to be shot at point-blank range in the leg by an undercover officer during the scuffle.
Soldiers in the "Duvdevan" unit, which led the operation, are known for carrying out high-risk counter-terror operations, often wearing Arab civilian clothes as a disguise.
The operation was branded a success by Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Peter Lerner who posted a video of the sting to Twitter with the caption: "In 17 seconds, IDF Duvdevan arrested 3 Palestinians who attacked the road to Jerusalem, everybody else scooted."
Violence has flared across Jerusalem and the West Bank over the last week. At least four Israelis have been killed in terror attacks and several more wounded, including a two-year old baby. On Wednesday alone there were three stabbing attacks in Israel, wounding three Israelis.
Today, a Palestinian stabbed and injured a Jewish seminary student on a main road in Jerusalem, and the attacker was arrested at the scene.
On the other side, hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded in clashes, at least two fatally, after Israel's security cabinet approved a crackdown on "inciters," including the use of live ammunition at demonstrations if the lives of civilians are deemed to be at risk. According to the Red Crescent ambulance service, 288 Palestinians were injured on Wednesday, including 10 by live fire.
In a bid to calm the tensions, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Thursday that ministers and MPs are banned from visiting the Temple Mount site in Jerusalem, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Currently Israel upholds a ban on non-Muslim prayer at the compound but Palestinians fear visits by Jewish groups, including ultranationalist lawmakers, are eroding their control of the al-Aqsa mosque located on the site.
The move has not been well-received in all quarters, however. Responding to the ban, Uri Ariel, Israel's Agriculture Minister and a senior figure in the right-wing pro-settler Jewish Home Party, said that he had only "heard about it in the press" and the prime minister had not informed ministers directly. "It's abnormal and unreasonable to prevent Jews from ascending the Temple Mount," he added.
Ariel is among the politicians who have frequently visited the site and called for Israeli sovereignty there. The prime minister's office later issued a clarification that the restriction on visits applied to all ministers, regardless of their religion.
Last month Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon signed a decree banning the Mourabitoun — a group of Muslim volunteers who claim to defend the holy site but also harass Jewish visitors — from entering the compound.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem's mayor Nir Barkat, known for his brash demeanor, has called on the city's licensed gun-holders to carry their weapons at all times to "increase their security." Last year Barkat and his bodyguard intervened in attempted stabbing attack in the city, rugby tackling the assailant to the floor.
The mayor recently openly carried his Glock pistol on a tour of Isawiya, a mainly Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem. "Given the current escalation in the security situation, those with a licensed firearm who know what to do with it must go out with [their weapon] — it's an imperative," he told Army Radio.
Reuters contributed to this report