JERUSALEM ( Associated Press) — Israeli security forces took part in a massive search operation on Friday for two Palestinians suspected of being stabbed near Tel Aviv, killing three Israelis.
Israel’s Independence Day stabbing on Thursday was the latest in a series of deadly attacks within the country in recent weeks. It came as Israeli-Palestinian tensions were heightened by violence at a major holy site in Jerusalem, already sacred to Jews and Muslims.
watch: 3 killed near Tel Aviv, Israeli police searching for attackers
Police said they are looking for two suspects, aged 19 and 20, from the occupied West Bank city of Genin, which has re-emerged as a militant stronghold in the latest wave of violence – the worst Israel has ever faced. Have seen over the years. Many of the attackers have come from or around Jenin, and the Israeli military has launched arrest raids, which ignited gun battles there.
“We will lay our hands on terrorists and their supportive environment and they will pay the price,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said after talks with senior security officials late Thursday. Officials said the attackers fled in a vehicle.
Medics described a horrific scene in Elad, an ultra-Orthodox town near Tel Aviv. In addition to the three killed, four others were injured, one of whom is in critical condition.
Israeli media identified the dead as Jonathan Havakuk, Boaz Gol and Oren Ben Yiftah, fathers of three in their 30s and 40s, who together are survived by 16 children.
Ben Yifta, 35 years old and father of six children, was from the central city of Lod. The city’s mayor, Jair Revivo, said in a Facebook post that “our hearts are broken into small pieces”, calling it a “great tragedy”.
Israel marked its Independence Day on Thursday as a festive national holiday, with people usually having barbecues and participating in air shows.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz extended a shutdown on the West Bank imposed before the holiday to prevent Palestinians from entering Israel, to remain in effect until Sunday.
In Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the “horrific attack targeting innocent men and women”.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose government manages autonomous regions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security, also condemned the attack.
The official Wafa news agency quoted him as saying, “The killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians only leads to further decline at a time when we all try to achieve stability and halt escalation.”
The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, praised the attack and linked it to violence at the holy site in Jerusalem.
“The attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque cannot be spared,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said. “The heroic operation in Tel Aviv is a practical translation of what the resistance warned against.”
The Al-Aqsa Mosque complex is the third holiest site in Islam and is built on top of a hill that is the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. It lies at the emotional heart of the conflict, and Palestinian and Israeli police have clashed there repeatedly in recent weeks.
Under an informal arrangement known as the status quo, Jews are allowed to visit the site, but not pray there. In recent years, they have visited an ever-increasing number with police protection and many have prayed with caution, angering Palestinians as well as neighboring Jordan, the site’s custodian. Palestinians have long feared that Israel was planning to eventually capture the site or divide it.
Israel says it is committed to maintaining the status quo and accuses Hamas of inciting recent violence.
At least 18 Israelis have been killed in five attacks since March, including another stabbing in southern Israel, two shootings in the Tel Aviv region and last weekend’s shootings in a West Bank settlement.
About 30 Palestinians have been killed in the violence – most of whom carried out attacks or were involved in confrontations with Israeli forces in the West Bank. But those killed also included an unarmed woman and two direct bystanders, and rights groups say Israel often uses excessive force.
Israel and Hamas fought an 11-day war a year earlier, which was largely affected by similar unrest in Jerusalem.
Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war – including al-Aqsa and other major religious sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Palestinians want all three regions to build their future state. The last serious peace talks collapsed more than a decade ago.
Associated Press writer Fares Akram in Hamilton, Canada contributed.