A pair of stabbing and shooting attacks carried out by Palestinians killed three Israelis, a Palestinian and an American teenager on Thursday in one of the deadliest days in a recent outburst of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
The attacks are part of a wave of violence that erupted in mid-September over tensions surrounding a Jerusalem holy site sacred to Jews and Muslims. Palestinians accuse Israel of plotting to take over the hilltop compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, something Israel denies.
The Palestinians say the violence is rooted in frustration at decades of living under Israeli occupation. Israel accuses Palestinian leaders of inciting the unrest.
The violence initially was confined to Jerusalem and gradually spread deeper into Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In Thursday’s first attack, a knife-wielding man stabbed and killed two Israelis as several of them gathered for afternoon prayers at an office building in the Israeli commercial center of Tel Aviv. Witness Shimon Vaknin said he saw a bloodied man stumble into the room where he prayed with companions.
“He was all slashed and bloody. We were in shock,” Vaknin said. “We didn’t know what happened, and then someone near the door shouted, ‘There’s a terrorist.'”
He described a dramatic standoff, with worshippers standing against the closed shop door as the assailant tried to force his way in. A blood-spattered floor was littered with plastic gloves.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the attacker was apprehended by onlookers. She said he was a Palestinian father of five from the West Bank village Dura, near Hebron, a frequent flashpoint for violence.
Hours later, a Palestinian motorist opened fire on a line of cars stuck in traffic in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem in the West Bank.
The Israeli military said he then intentionally rammed his vehicle into a group of pedestrians. The military said soldiers shot at the attacker, although his condition and identity were unknown.
That attack killed three people, including an Israeli and 18-year-old American Ezra Schwartz, who was studying in Israel. Also killed was a Palestinian man, but police said it was unclear if he was hit by the attacker’s fire or that of Israeli forces.
In a statement distributed by the Israeli Government Press Office, Schwartz studied in a Jewish seminary outside Jerusalem and had come to the country on Masa, a program that brings young Jews from abroad to live in the country.
“Ezra came to Israel not only to study but also to be a part of the vibrant Israeli experience. This makes his death even more tragic,” said Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, which works closely with the government to promote Jewish immigration to Israel.
Schwartz, who was from Sharon, Massachusetts, graduated this year from the Maimonides School in Brookline, Massachusetts. Maimonides said the school community was “profoundly saddened” and mourned his death.
The U.S. Department of State said it extended its condolences to his family and friends.
Since the violence broke out, Israel has sent troops to back up thousands of police patrolling cities, set up checkpoints in Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and outlawed an Islamic group accused of inciting violence. But it has struggled to contain the seemingly spontaneous attacks.
Thursday’s Tel Aviv attack, inside an expansive office building in the middle of the day, in particular stoked Israeli fears that a full-fledged Palestinian uprising could erupt. Attacks inside Israel have grown rare in recent weeks even as violence continued to roil the West Bank.
Palestinian attacks have claimed the lives of 17 Israelis since the flare-up began. At least 84 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, 52 of them said by Israel to be attackers, the remainder killed in clashes with Israeli troops. A Palestinian who clashed with Israeli troops last week died from his wounds Thursday.
Previous deadly days have seen eight Palestinians killed, mainly in clashes with Israeli troops on the Gaza border. In another day of violence last month, three Israelis and three Palestinians, including two said by Israel to have been attackers, were killed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he and security officials discussed ways to contain attackers emanating from Hebron and take steps against Israelis who hire Palestinians illegally. Israel grants thousands of permits for Palestinians to work in Israel, while thousands of others enter illegally.
The violence has Israelis on edge, and several politicians have urged licensed gun owners to carry their weapons. Shortly after the Tel Aviv attack, Mayor Ron Huldai called for Israelis to remain calm.
Also Thursday, Israeli Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai and Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs Hussen al-Sheikh signed an agreement granting Palestinian mobile carriers 3G high-speed data services in the West Bank.
Under interim peace agreements, Israel controls cellular networks in the West Bank. Israeli cellular carriers transmit 3G, but Palestinian networks have been confined to the slower 2G networks. The agreement won’t enable 4G service for Palestinians, nor will it cover the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, Israeli police said a Jerusalem court sentenced a police officer to six weeks of community service for beating a Palestinian-American teenager during a violent protest in July 2014. The officer was sentenced Wednesday.
Associated Press writer Daniella Cheslow in Jerusalem and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.
SOURCE: The Associated Press