Assault by two Palestinian men on No 78 bus and attack in Jewish neighbourhood mark worst day of violence in current escalation in tensions
Two Palestinians armed with a knife and a gun have launched a deadly attack on a Jerusalem bus, killing two Israelis and injuring three more in the worst day of violence since the start of the current escalation in tensions.
In an almost simultaneous attack in a Jewish neighbourhood of the city on Tuesday morning, an assailant rammed a car into a bus station before stabbing bystanders, killing one and injuring two others.
Amid calls by Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, to seal Palestinian neighbourhoods of the city, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is to meet in an emergency session with his security cabinet to consider his response later on Tuesday.
By 1pm local time three Israelis had been killed in four separate attacks and more than 20 injured, half a dozen of them seriously, as Israeli security forces moved to swamp Jerusalem. There were also two reported stabbing attacks in the central Israeli city of Ra’anana.
The attack on the bus in the Armon Hanatziv neighbourhood of Jerusalem the car ramming in the Geula area of the city took place within about 20 minutes of each other on a day when both Israelis and Palestinians had been bracing for more violence amid planned protests.
In the first attack two men boarded the 78 Egged bus and started attacking passengers, including a man in his 60s who died at the scene. A second passenger was declared dead on arrival at hospital.
At the scene of the attack the bodies of those involved in the killings were still visible on the ground next to the bus covered in a white tarpaulin. Bullet holes were also visible in the bus’s windscreen, although it was not clear if they were the result of the initial attack or police gunfire.
As angry locals gathered near the bus some called for revenge, with one individual demanding “a Jewish intifada”.
A social worker at the scene, who was comforting a woman, said the driver of the bus – who was unarmed – had stopped when he realised an attack was under way and escaped from the vehicle to raise the alarm with the driver of the second bus following behind.
Another witness, who was leaving a local clinic, described seeing the bus driver shouting: “Terrorists, terrorists!” as he fled the bus.
According to local media one of the attackers was shot by a security guard nearby while the remaining attacker stayed on the bus and locked the doors before being shot by police as they arrived.
Yehuda Ben Yosef, an official in Armon Hanatziv, told Israel radio after the attack: “Today was terrible. This was a barbaric act, a massacre of our residents, of people who never thought for a moment that a despicable terrorist would get up and murder them in cold blood on a bus. People who had done nothing wrong. This is a very terrible thing. The very quick action of a neighbourhood resident, who blocked the bus, the action of the driver who opened the doors and the resourcefulness of others must be noted.”
The ramming attack took place on Malkhei Yisrael Street in Geula where an east Jerusalem resident drove a car into a bus stop and hit two pedestrians – one of whom, reportedly a rabbi, was killed and the other seriously wounded.
The driver then got out of the vehicle and stabbed the two wounded people before being shot.
Amid a growing sense of crisis, police closed several major highways leading in and out of Jerusalem and swamped the city with security forces, with groups of armed officers visible on major junctions and entrances to Palestinian neighbourhoods.
As news of the latest attacks emerged, Netanyahu called an emergency meeting of his security cabinet, where police were to present a plan to halt the violence.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the country’s internal security minister, Gilad Erdan, was considering a number of immediate steps, including a closure of Arab neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, where many of the attackers have come from, and making it easier to get gun licences.
While Israelis are unnerved by the random nature of the attacks, the long-running diplomatic deadlock has left many Palestinians feeling hopeless about their chances of ending nearly half a century of Israeli occupation.
The Jerusalem attacks, coupled with a pair of stabbings Ra’anana that left five people injured, came in rapid succession. Emergency services said several of the wounded were in serious condition.
At the scene of one of the attacks, Barkat called on the government to seal off the West Bank and certain Arab neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem to quell the wave of attacks that have struck the city.
Since the Jewish new year last month, seven Israelis have been killed and dozens wounded in violence including a shooting, a stoning and a series of stabbings.
At least 27 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including 11 identified by Israel as attackers and the rest in clashes between stone-throwers and Israeli troops. Hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded in such confrontations.
On Monday, Palestinians carried out three stabbings in Jerusalem, leaving a Israeli teenage boy in critical condition.
The unrest began last month with clashes at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site and quickly spread across Israel and into the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The attacks come at a time of deep despair for the Palestinians. Peace talks broke down more than a year ago, and prospects for relaunching diplomatic efforts to end the conflict appear nil. After years of diplomatic deadlock, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has seen his popularity plunge.
The attackers, many of them teenagers, have had no affiliation with militant groups, and the seemingly random nature of the stabbings has made it difficult to predict or prevent them.The use of vehicles and firearms in Jerusalem on Tuesday, however, marked a more serious level of violence and bring back memories of the deadly attacks that plagued Israeli cities during last decade’s second Palestinian uprising.