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Mideast knife violence repetitive, puzzling

JERUSALEM - Young Palestinians with kitchen knives are waging a ceaseless campaign of near-suicidal violence that Israeli leaders are calling "a new kind of terrorism."

JERUSALEM - Young Palestinians with kitchen knives are waging a ceaseless campaign of near-suicidal violence that Israeli leaders are calling "a new kind of terrorism."

This weekend, Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians after they stabbed a soldier Sunday, a day after troops killed two would-be attackers the Associated Press reported.

There have been about 120 attacks and attempted assaults by Palestinians against Israelis since early October, an average of more than one a day. At least 20 Israelis have been killed; more than 80 Palestinians have been shot dead by security forces and armed civilians during the assaults.

There is a numbing repetition to the news: knife-wielding Palestinian at a military checkpoint or bus stop shot dead at the scene.

A review of the incidents since the beginning of October, alongside interviews with Israeli and Palestinian officials, reveal attacks that do not fit into past patterns. There is a sense on both sides that something unprecedented is happening.

The past cycles of violence, the first and second intifadahs, the stone throwers in the 1980s, and suicide bombers in the 2000s, were embraced by the Palestinian leadership and steered by armed factions. The current uprising appears to be leaderless, the assailants "liked" by friends and followers on Facebook but decoupled from traditional Palestinian politics.

Palestinian officials are struggling to find the words to describe the attacks - calling them "acts" or "events" and the assailants "victims" or "martyrs." They have been reluctant to publicly encourage the attacks, but they have not condemned the killings or called for them to stop.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently described the violence as "a new kind of terrorism."

Israeli security forces have not been able to stop the attacks, which are mostly carried out by unmarried youths who decide on their own to pick up a knife or an ax or a potato peeler.

Netanyahu says the attacks are inspired by radical Islam, but his own military intelligence officers are reluctant to make such a direct link, saying instead that the motivations are a mix of personal and political beliefs.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called the daily attacks a "justified popular uprising . . . driven by despair that a two-state solution is not coming."

Israel's minister of public security, Gilad Erdan, said in an interview that the violence is nearly impossible to forecast and disrupt because, unlike operations directed by groups such as the Islamist militant organization Hamas, there are no cells to penetrate, no phones to tap, no targets for undercover operations. The pool of possible assailants is as large as the number of frustrated Palestinians.

"In the past we could find the organizations and send agents in and try to prevent it before it happened," Erdan said in an interview. "Today it is individuals making their own decisions."

The attacks appear to be spontaneous and opportunistic, poorly planned, and badly executed - although often deadly. Most attackers display little or no training. The most common weapon is a kitchen knife. The second most common is the family car.

If the death of an Israeli soldier or Jewish settler is what the Palestinian assailants seek, the attacks are often failures. Most victims survive; many of the soldiers, who wear body armor, are only slightly wounded, if at all.

But dozens of Palestinian assailants have been shot dead.

Although the Palestinian leaders say they are committed to nonviolence, they consider the attacks acts of "popular resistance" against the 48-year military occupation by Israel.