Israeli officials said a pair of Palestinian attackers stabbed a town near Tel Aviv on Thursday night, killing at least three people and wounding four others before fleeing in a vehicle.
Police launched a search for the attackers, set up barricades and sent a helicopter. The stabbings on Israel’s Independence Day were the latest in a string of deadly attacks on Israeli cities in recent weeks.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions have escalated recently with attacks in Israel, military operations in the occupied West Bank and violence at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site. The home of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, was the scene of new unrest early Thursday.
Alon Rizkan, a physician with Israel’s Magan David Edom Rescue Service, described it as a “very tough call” upon arrival in Elad, an ultra-Orthodox city near Tel Aviv. He said he identified three dead people at different places. At least four others were injured, one in critical condition, officials said.
Israeli media quoted police as saying there were two attackers, and as of midnight, police said they were still searching for the attackers. He urged the public to avoid the area and report suspicious vehicles or people.
Israel marked its Independence Day on Thursday as a festive national holiday, with people usually having barbecues and participating in air shows.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the attack appeared to be “the latest in a series of despicable terrorist attacks that rocked Israel.”
“Our commitment to our Israeli partners is to protect Israel, which is an iron clad,” he said.
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.
Early Thursday, Israeli police entered the site to clear out Palestinian protesters, as Jewish visits were halted for Muslim holidays.
As travel resumed, dozens of Palestinians gathered. When the police went to arrest one, a scuffle broke out. As some Palestinians took shelter inside the mosque, police fired rubber-covered bullets over the vast area. Police could later be seen inside the entrance of the mosque with barricades.
Police said they retaliated to dozens of people who resorted to provocation and stone-pelting, and that one police officer sustained minor injuries. The Palestinian Red Crescent Emergency Service said two Palestinians were taken to hospital after being beaten with sticks.
Unlike in previous confrontations, Palestinian witnesses said there was no stone-pelting initially. When the police entered the building, some of those who took shelter inside the mosque started throwing stones and other objects. Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns.
The recent bloodshed has been the worst in years. At least 18 Israelis have been killed in five attacks, including stabbings in southern Israel, two other shootings in the Tel Aviv region and a shooting in a West Bank settlement last weekend. 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 an unarmed woman and a lawyer, who appear to have been shot inadvertently, were also killed.
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