5 die in deadly day of attacks in Israel, West Bank

Israeli police investigate the scene of Thursday’s stabbing in Tel Aviv.
Israeli police investigate the scene of Thursday’s stabbing in Tel Aviv. AP

Palestinian attackers on Thursday killed five people, including an American citizen and a Palestinian motorist, in one of the deadliest days in a surge of violence that has swept Israel and the Palestinian territories for weeks.

Two of the dead were killed in Tel Aviv, breaking a relative lull in attacks inside Israel. The other three died in the West Bank.

A total of 17 Israelis have been killed since the wave of violence started on Oct. 1, and more than 80 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 50 said by Israel to be assailants, and others who died in street clashes with Israeli forces.

In a Facebook posting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to “settle scores” with the attackers, exact a price from their families and destroy their homes.

“Behind these terrorist attacks stands radical Islam, which seeks to destroy us, the same radical Islam that struck in Paris and threatens Europe,” Netanyahu wrote in his posting.

“Whoever condemned the attacks in France must condemn the attacks in Israel,” he added. “It’s the same terrorism. Anyone who does not do so is acting hypocritically and blindly.”

Friday’s violence began when a knife-wielding Palestinian fatally stabbed two people and wounded a third in a sprawling building housing stores and offices in southern Tel Aviv. He then tried to attack a group of men at prayer in a makeshift synagogue, but was blocked, witnesses said.

The stabber was identified as a 36-year-old father of five from the West Bank village of Dura, near Hebron, who worked at a restaurant near the scene of the attack.

Shimon Vaknin, a witness, told reporters that he was praying with other men in a room when a seriously wounded man stumbled in and collapsed on the floor.

“He was drenched in blood, stabbed all over,” Vaknin said. “One of the worshipers saw a terrorist with a huge knife running toward the synagogue.”

Vaknin said the men inside shut the door and struggled for several minutes with the Palestinian, who tried to burst in. The Palestinian was overpowered by other civilians and taken into custody.

A few hours later, near the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut south of Jerusalem, a Palestinian gunman at the wheel of a car overtook a row of vehicles backed up near a junction, raking them with bullets from an Uzi submachine gun.

A man from Alon Shvut was killed, as well as a Palestinian motorist and an 18-year-old American yeshiva student.

The student was identified as Ezra Schwartz, from Sharon, Mass. Israeli media said he was on a study and volunteer program in Israel and was returning with classmates from a delivery of food to soldiers posted in the area of the settlement.

After the gunman crashed his car into another vehicle, he was overpowered by a motorist and arrested. He was identified as a resident of Deir Samet, a village near Hebron.

Netanyahu called a meeting with top security officials to discuss possible responses in the Hebron area, his office said.

In Jerusalem on Wednesday, a police officer was sentenced to 45 days of community service for beating a Palestinian American teenager in July 2014. The incident attracted international attention after it was captured on video and posted on the internet.

The teenager, Tariq Abu Khdeir, of Tampa, Fla., was assaulted at a violent East Jerusalem protest following the killing of his cousin, Muhammad Abu Khdeir. Israeli extremists burned him alive in revenge for the killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.

Greenberg is a McClatchy special correspondent.