UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged Palestinians and Israel to step back from a "dangerous abyss" as he arrived on a snap visit to the region at the head of international efforts to quell three weeks of violence.       

The bloodshed began with a string of stabbing attacks on Israelis in Jerusalem. One reason given by Palestinians for the violence is anger over perceived Jewish encroachment on Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine, also revered by Jews as the site of two biblical temples.            

Mr Ban said the wave of unrest was undermining Palestinian hopes for statehood and Israel's longing for security.            

"This conflict has gone on for far too long," he said. "We must, for the future of our children, come back from this dangerous abyss, safeguard the two-state solution and lead people back onto the road towards peace."     

Mr Ban, whose trip was announced in Israel only hours before his arrival, later met Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

He will see Palestinian President Mahmoud  Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah tomorrow, Palestinian officials said. Mr Ban said he will also meet in Amman with Jordan's King Abdullah on Thursday.        

Deadly incidents            

In the latest deadly incident, a Palestinian vehicle ran over and killed an Israeli motorist whom a Reuters photographer said was using a club to hit Palestinian protesters and cars on a roadside in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israeli police said the man had stopped his car after stones were thrown at it.              

About two hours later, another Palestinian rammed his car into a bus stop near an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, injuring two people, the Israeli military said. It said the man then got out of the vehicle and tried to stab people before being shot by security forces. Police said he had been killed.       

Earlier, a Palestinian stabbed and wounded an Israeli officer in the West Bank before other troops shot and killed the assailant, the Israeli military said.             

In Gaza, Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian militant close to the border fence, the Israeli military said. Al-Sabireen, a small militant group, confirmed he was one of their members.           

Before today's incidents, eight Israelis were killed in stabbings, shootings and car rammings by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs in Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Israeli security forces have killed at least 44 Palestinians, including 21 assailants and demonstrator.