A Palestinian plowed a car into a crowded bus stop in east Jerusalem on Friday, killing two people, including a six-year-old, and injuring five others before being shot and killed, Israeli police and medics said, the latest escalation as violence grips the contested capital.
The car-ramming took place in Ramot, a Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem. Tensions have soared in the Israeli-annexed eastern half of the city, following a Palestinian shooting attack outside a synagogue on Jan. 27 that killed seven people in the deadliest attack in Jerusalem in over a decade.
The Israeli rescue service identified the two killed as a six-year-old boy and a man in his 20s. It said medics were treating five injured, including an eight-year-old child in critical condition undergoing CPR. Others, ages ranging from 10 to 40, were in moderate to serious condition. They had been waiting at the bus stop before the car came crashing to a stop, police said.
“It was a shocking scene,” said paramedic Lishai Shemesh who happened to be driving by at the time of the attack. “I was in the car with my wife and children and noticed a car driving fast into the bus stop and crushing the people who were waiting there.”
An off-duty detective shot and killed the suspected attacker at the scene, police added, describing him as a Palestinian in his 30s from east Jerusalem. Palestinian media identified him as 32-year-old Hussein Qaraqa.
Speaking from the scene of the suspected attack, Israel’s hard-line national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, ordered police to set up checkpoints around the driver’s neighbourhood of Issawiya to “check every vehicle.”
“I wanted to to create a full blockade (on the area), but there is a judicial question around it,” he added.
Israel’s largely ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog, expressed shock and offered condolences to the families of the victims. “Our hearts are pained by the terrible news,” he said.
The Islamic militant groups Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, praised the rampage but did not immediately claim responsibility. Footage from the scene showed police and paramedics swarming a mangled blue Mazda that had slammed into the bus stop. Bodies lay strewn along the way.
As an immediate measure, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant imposed financial sanctions on 87 Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem, including assailants and their family members. Mr. Galant also ordered the seizures of funds the Palestinian Authority uses to pay families of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and suspected in deadly attacks against Israelis and those killed in the conflict, including militants.
The PA payments to prisoners’ families have been a central issue in Israel’s punitive measures against the Palestinians in recent months. The new Israeli government decided to recently to deduct the sums the PA had paid to prisoners from tax revenue Israel transfers to the cash-strapped PA.
The Palestinian Authority says these payments as a necessary social welfare while Israel says the so-called Martyrs’ Fund incentivizes violence.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians seek east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as a capital of their future state.
Hostilities have increased in east Jerusalem and the West Bank since Israel stepped up raids in the occupied territory last spring, following a series of deadly Palestinian attacks within Israel.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 2022, making it the deadliest year in those territories since 2004, according to leading Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
So far this year, 43 Palestinians have been killed, according to a count by the Associated Press – 10 of them in a gunfight last month during an army raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
Israel’s new far-right government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, had accused the previous government of inaction in the face of a deadly wave of Palestinian assaults last year, stirring questions about its stance toward the Palestinians at this time of heightened tension.
Mr. Netanyahu’s office said he dispatched more police forces to the area and directed them to arrest those in the driver’s “circle.” He and Mr. Ben-Gvir called for the immediate sealing of the assailant’s home ahead of its planned demolition.
Israel defends such home demolitions of Palestinian attackers’ family homes as a deterrent meant to prevent future attacks. But human rights groups criticize the practice as collective punishment, prohibited by international law, leaving relatives homeless who had nothing to do with the attack.
The new government has announced its intention to accelerate the decades-old policy of home demolitions, sealing the family homes of two attackers in east Jerusalem following a pair of shootings last month.
Officials have also escalated the demolitions of Palestinian homes built without hard-to-get Israeli building permits in the city’s east, where some 200,000 Israelis live in Jewish neighbourhoods that most of the world consider to be in occupied territory.
In the area of Wadi Qaddum earlier on Friday, Palestinians held midday prayers in protest outside an apartment building housing 100 residents that is slated to be razed. Mr. Netanyahu’s office has reportedly delayed the demolition. Heavily armed police burst into the area as men gathered in prayer, confiscating Palestinian flags and firing tear gas to disperse the demonstration.