JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli security forces took part in a mass hunt on Friday against two Palestinians suspected of carrying out knife attacks near Tel Aviv, in which three Israelis were killed.
The stabbing on Thursday, Israel’s Independence Day, was the latest in a series of deadly attacks in the interior of the country in recent weeks. It came as Israeli-Palestinian tensions were intensified by violence in the main holy place in Jerusalem, sacred to Jews and Muslims.
Police said they were looking for two suspects, aged 19 and 20, from the town of Jenin in the occupied West Bank. re-emerged as a bastion in the latest wave of violence, the worst Israel has seen in years. Several attackers arrived from or around Jenin, and Israeli forces began detention raids that led to shootings.
“We will take the terrorists and their support environment into their own hands, and they will pay the price,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said after meeting with senior security officials on Thursday. Authorities said the attackers fled in a car.
Doctors described a horrific scene in Greece, an ultra-Orthodox city near Tel Aviv. In addition to the three killed, four others were injured, one of them in critical condition.
Israeli media have identified the victims: Jonathan Hawakuk, Boaz Gol and Oren Ben Iftah, three parents aged 30-40, who have 16 children together.
Ben Iftach, 35, and the father of six children, was from the central city of Lod. Mayor Jair Reviva said “our hearts are broken into tiny pieces” in a Facebook post, calling it a “great tragedy”.
Israel celebrated Thursday on Independence Day, a national holiday during which people usually hold barbecues and attend air shows.
Defense Secretary Benny Gantz has extended the closure of the West Bank, imposed on the eve of the holidays to prevent Palestinians from entering Israel, until Sunday.
In Washington, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken condemned the “horrific attack on innocent men and women.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose government runs autonomous zones in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and is cooperating with Israel on security issues, also condemned the attack.
“The killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians is only exacerbating at a time when we are all trying to achieve stability and prevent escalation,” the official Wafa news agency quoted him as saying.
The Palestinian group Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, praised the attack and linked it to violence in a holy place in Jerusalem.
“The storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque cannot go unpunished,” said Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem. “The heroic operation in Tel Aviv is a practical translation of what the resistance warned against.”
Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam and is built on top of a hill, which is the holiest site for Jews who call it the Temple Mount. This lies at the emotional center of the conflict, and Palestinians and Israeli police have repeatedly joined in recent weeks.
Under informal arrangements known as the status quo, Jews are allowed to visit the place but not pray there. In recent years, they are visited by an increasing number of police escorts and many prayed discreetly, angering Palestinians as well as neighboring Jordan, which is the custodian of this site. The Palestinians have long feared that Israel plans to eventually seize or divide the facility.
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 knife attack in southern Israel, two shootings in the Tel Aviv area and a shooting last weekend in a settlement in the West Bank.
Nearly 30 Palestinians have been killed in the violence, most of them carrying out attacks or engaging in confrontations with Israeli forces in the West Bank. But among those killed were also an unarmed woman and two obvious passers-by, and human rights groups say Israel often uses excessive force.
A year ago, Israel and Hamas waged an 11-day war that was largely sparked by similar unrest in Jerusalem.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, which includes al-Aqsa and other major religious sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians want all three territories to form their future state. The last serious peace talks failed more than ten years ago.
Associated Press writer Fares Akram of Hamilton, Canada, contributed.
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