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Israel calls in army to try to halt wave of stabbings

Emergency responders carry the body of an Israeli killed when two Palestinian men boarded a bus in Jerusalem and began shooting and stabbing passengers.
Emergency responders carry the body of an Israeli killed when two Palestinian men boarded a bus in Jerusalem and began shooting and stabbing passengers. AP

The Israeli government moved to dispatch soldiers to Israeli cities and weighed posting checkpoints outside Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem after Palestinian assailants carried out multiple attacks on Tuesday, leaving three Israelis dead and more than a dozen wounded.

A 2-week-old wave of violence that has unsettled many Israelis has raised the pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has struggled to contain the surging Palestinian unrest. His security cabinet met for hours on Tuesday to discuss further countermeasures.

Daily stabbings by Palestinian assailants have spilled over from Jerusalem and the West Bank to other Israeli cities, and clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops have erupted across the West Bank and along the perimeter fence surrounding the Gaza Strip.

On Tuesday morning, the wail of police sirens in Jerusalem signaled another attack in the city. Two Palestinians armed with a gun and a knife boarded a bus in the Jewish neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv in East Jerusalem and attacked passengers, killing two men and wounding seven other people, one of them seriously, police and hospital officials said.

A witness said that one of the Palestinians shut the doors of the bus, trapping passengers inside as the attack went on, until police who rushed to the scene fired into the vehicle, killing one assailant and seriously wounding the other.

Across town a short time later, a Palestinian employee of the Israeli phone company drove one of its vehicles onto a sidewalk and rammed people at a bus stop. Police video showed the driver emerging with a meat cleaver to attack the victims before he was felled by a shot, then shot again on the ground by a security guard. An ultra-Orthodox Jew was killed in the attack, and three other people were wounded.

Police reported two more stabbings in Ra’anana, a town north of Tel Aviv, where five people were wounded.

All of the Palestinian attackers on Tuesday were from East Jerusalem, whose residents carry Israeli ID cards and can move freely around the country. The national police operations chief, Aharon Aksol, told Israeli Channel Two television that there were plans to erect manned barriers at exits from Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to check cars and pedestrians. He said police would be bolstered by army soldiers who would be posted in public places and on city streets.

So far the Israeli measures have been unable to stop what appear to be spontaneous attacks by individuals with no organizational support of militant groups.

Alaa Abu Jamal, who plowed his vehicle into the bus stop, worked with Israelis at the phone company. Though his employers said he gave no outward signs of his intentions, he had publicly justified an attack by two of his relatives who killed five people in a shooting and stabbing attack at a Jerusalem synagogue in November 2014.

In a videotaped news interview at the time, he called the assault a “natural reaction” to “the pressures of the occupation forces on the Palestinian people, the humiliation in Jerusalem in general, and the ongoing raids on Al-Aqsa.”

He was referring to Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest shrine in Islam.

Clashes last month in the mosque compound, a contested holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount, triggered the current wave of unrest.

A Facebook posting last December by Baha Alayan, one of the attackers on the bus, listed “The Ten Instructions of the Martyr” and a last will and testament, which ended with the words, “See you in Paradise.”

Greenberg is a McClatchy special correspondent.

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