JERUSALEM — U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned Tuesday that mounting violence in Israel and the West Bank risks “spinning out of control,” urging Palestinians to halt attacks and telling Israelis to refrain from harsh crackdowns.
The surprise visit by the U.N. chief highlights growing international concern over a burst of killings and attacks in recent weeks that have claimed dozens of lives and raised fears of another sustained Palestinian uprising. The widening unrest adds yet more volatility to a Middle East convulsed by civil strife and refugee crises.
A series of attacks by Palestinians, many of them involving knife assaults in Jerusalem, have spread panic among Israelis. Palestinians, in turn, accuse Israeli police and soldiers of using brutal tactics that have led to dozens of civilian deaths.
During a news conference with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Ban called for calm and said his visit to the region reflected a “sense of global alarm at the dangerous escalation in violence between Israelis and Palestinians.”
He also held out hope for a resolution to the recent unrest, saying that it is “not too late to avoid a broader crisis.”
Ban acknowledged Palestinian grievances, which include expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but urged those contemplating violence to “put down the weapons of despair.”
For Israeli leaders, Ban also noted the public’s fears and need for security. Yet he said the tougher measures and reprisals, such as “walls, checkpoints . . . and home demolitions,” only deepen the tensions.
“I am here,” Ban added, “to encourage and support all efforts to lower tensions and prevent the situation from spinning out of control.”
At least 10 Israelis have been killed in attacks by Palestinians in the past month. During that time, Israeli gunfire and clashes have killed 43 Palestinians, including 21 individuals labeled by authorities as assailants. On Sunday, a migrant from Eritrea died after he was shot by a security guard and beaten by an Israeli mob, apparently after being mistaken for a Palestinian.
Ban met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday evening and was expected to hold discussions Wednesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
At a news conference held with Ban, Netanyahu had firm words for the Palestinian leader, accusing Abbas of failing to condemn violence carried out against Israelis.
The Palestinian president, who has long called for nonviolent measures against Israel, refers to those killed in the current round of fighting as martyrs. The Palestinian Authority leadership accuses Israeli leaders of incitement, including with regard to the expansion of Jewish settlements on land wanted for a Palestinian state.
The violence, meanwhile, showed no sign of easing.
Two “terrorists” — a term that Israeli officials generally use to describe Palestinian assailants — were killed Tuesday evening near the West Bank city of Hebron by Israeli soldiers, the English-
language Web site of Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported. The army confirmed the shootings and said a soldier was wounded in the incident.
Earlier in the day, Israel’s military said a soldier and civilian were wounded when a suspected Palestinian driver rammed into their vehicle near Hebron, a notorious flash point in the Israeli-
occupied territory. The assailant was shot dead at the site of the attack, the military said.
Also in the Hebron area, local media reported that a Palestinian struck an Israeli man with his car. The Israeli had just exited his vehicle after it was hit by a barrage of rocks, according to Israeli and Palestinian media reports.
Elsewhere, unrest has spilled over to the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave controlled by the militant group Hamas that was the site of a devastating weeks-long war with Israel last year. Clashes with Israeli forces along the concrete fence that hems in the coastal enclave killed one Palestinian and wounded eight others Tuesday, residents said. In a statement, Israel’s military said it killed one man who it said was preparing a cross-boundary assault.
The latest spike in violence was triggered by simmering disputes over Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, situated on a site revered by both Muslim and Jewish worshipers. Palestinians fear that Israeli officials want to overturn a long-standing status quo that allows Jews to visit — but not to pray at — the site. The area is revered by Jews as the site of two ancient Jewish temples.
In a speech delivered earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu denied harboring plans for altering the prayer rituals in the Old City that have managed to endure decades of upheaval.
Also on Tuesday, the head of the U.N.’s cultural agency, UNESCO, said she “deplores” an Arab-backed proposal to change the oversight status of the Old City’s Western Wall, where Jews pray at the base of the Temple Mount, on which the al-Aqsa compound is located. In a statement, Irina Bokova warned that the proposed change, which would officially recognize the Western Wall as part of the Muslim holy site, could spark more violence.
UNESCO’s executive board was expected to vote as early as Tuesday on the Arab proposal, which Israel also has rejected as an attempt to “distort history.”
Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.