Palestinian assailants carried out a pair of attacks on Friday, killing three people and wounding at least six as tensions rose after days of fighting at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, the officials. Earlier in the day, retaliatory Israeli airstrikes hit Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, raising fears of a wider conflict.
Israeli authorities say an Italian tourist was killed and five other Italian and British citizens were injured when a car rammed into a group of tourists in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial hub.
In a separate incident, two British-Israeli women were shot to death near a settlement in the occupied West Bank.
The spasm of violence in Israel and the West Bank has raised fears of a further escalation, with the rare conjunction of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Jewish Passover holiday and Easter underway.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was calling on all reserve forces in Israel’s border police, a paramilitary force normally assigned to quell Palestinian unrest, “to deal with terror attacks.”
Additional border police will be activated on Sunday and will join other units recently deployed in Jerusalem and Lod, a town in central Israel with a mixed Jewish and Palestinian population.
Israel unleashed rare airstrikes on Lebanon and bombed the Gaza Strip on Friday morning, but later in the day there were signs that both sides were trying to keep the fighting on the border. Fighting subsided after dawn, and midday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem – a flashpoint for violence in recent days – passed off peacefully.
The round of violence erupted after Israeli police raided the mosque earlier this week, sparking chaos in the disputed capital and anger across the Arab world. Militants fired an unusually large rocket barrage into Israel from southern Lebanon on Thursday — some of the heaviest and worst cross-border violence since Israel’s 2006 war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants — as well as from Gaza.
In a car rampage in Tel Aviv on Friday, the alleged attacker rammed his car into a group of civilians near a popular seaside park, police said. Israel’s rescue service said a 30-year-old Italian man had been killed, while five other British and Italian tourists — including a 74-year-old man and a 17-year-old woman — were receiving medical treatment for mild to moderate injuries.
Police said they shot and killed the driver of the car and identified him as a 45-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel from the village of Kafr Qassem.
A video circulating on social media showed the car careening down a sidewalk for several hundred yards (meters) before spinning out of control.
Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni’s office expressed “closeness to the victim’s family” and “solidarity with Israel for the vile attack.” He recognized the murdered man as Alessandro Parini from Rome.
Meanwhile, gunfire in the West Bank killed two sisters, both in their 20s, and seriously wounded their 45-year-old mother near an Israeli settlement in the Jordan Valley, Israeli and British officials said. The family lives in the Efrat settlement, near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, said Oded Revivi, the settlement’s mayor.
Medics said they dragged the unconscious women from their wrecked car, which had apparently been pushed onto the road.
No group claimed responsibility for either attack. But Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group hailed both incidents as retaliation for last week’s Israeli raids on the Al-Aqsa mosque – Islam’s third holiest site. On Tuesday, police arrested and beat hundreds of Palestinians there, who responded by throwing rocks and fireworks at officers.
Friday’s airstrikes in neighboring Lebanon targeted Hamas militant areas, Israel’s military said, accusing the group of firing nearly three dozen rockets that hit open areas and towns in northern Israel. on Thursday. The bombing appears to be designed to avoid drawing in Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite group that Israel considers its most immediate threat.
There were no reports of serious casualties from the airstrikes, but several people in the southern Lebanese town of Qalili, including Syrian refugees, said they were slightly injured.
“I immediately gathered my wife and children and sent them out of the house,” said Qalili resident Bilal Suleiman, who was awakened by the bombing.
A flock of sheep was killed when Israeli missiles hit a field near the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiyeh, according to an Associated Press photographer. Other airstrikes hit a bridge and a power transformer in nearby Maaliya, and damaged an irrigation system.
In the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military pounded what it said were Hamas weapons manufacturing sites and underground tunnels. A children’s hospital in Gaza City was among the sites damaged, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
After the reprisals, Israelis living along the southern border returned home from bomb shelters. Most of the missiles that managed to cross Israeli territory hit open areas, but one landed in the town of Sderot, sending shrapnel ripping through a house.
There were no reports of casualties on either side of the southern border.
The Israeli military says everyone wants to avoid a full-scale conflict. “Silence will be met with silence,” said spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht. A Qatari official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the emirate was mediating.
Although a tenuous calm took hold on the Lebanese and Gaza borders, the West Bank remained volatile. Violence there has intensified in recent months, with Palestinian health officials reporting that the start of 2023 was the deadliest for Palestinians in two decades.
Nearly 90 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank since the beginning of the year, at least half of them affiliated with militant groups, according to an Associated Press tally. During that time, 17 people were killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis — all but one of them civilians.
“It’s just a matter of time, and not much time, until we settle the score,” Netanyahu said as he toured the site of the deadly shooting in the West Bank with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. “We acted in Lebanon, we acted in Gaza, we strengthened the forces in the field.”
Al-Aqsa has long been a nexus of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and clashes between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli police at the holy compound this week have escalated into a regional confrontation. The mosque sits atop a hill that is sacred to both Muslims and Jews. In 2021, escalating clashes there culminated in an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas leaders.
Before dawn prayers on Friday, there was chaos at the entrance to the esplanade as baton-wielding Israeli police descended on crowds of Palestinian worshipers shouting slogans praising Hamas as they tried to squeeze into the site. Later, people leaving the prayers staged a large protest in the limestone courtyard, raising their fists, shouting anti-Israel chants and waving Hamas flags. Israeli police said they forced their way into the compound in response to “masked suspects” who threw stones at officers at a gate.
Israeli authorities control access to the area but the compound is overseen by Islamic and Jordanian officials.
The unrest comes at a delicate time for Jerusalem’s Old City, which is full of religious fervor and teeming with pilgrims from around the world. Christian believers retrace the route Jesus is said to have taken for Good Friday and Jews celebrate the week-long festival of Passover, while Muslims pray and fast for Ramadan.
Associated Press writers Abby Sewell in Beirut, Jill Lawless in London, Frances D’Emilio in Rome and Joseph Krauss in Ottawa, Canada, contributed to this report.