A Palestinian driver plowed his minivan into a group of Israeli border police and commuters Wednesday at a light-rail station in Jerusalem, killing an officer and injuring 13 people, four of them seriously, before he was shot dead, police and hospital officials said.
The attack on a main road between Arab and Jewish areas of Jerusalem was nearly identical to another deadly incident in the same area two weeks ago.
Wednesday’s attack came amid soaring tensions in Jerusalem focused on the most sensitive holy site in the city, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, the compound surrounding al Aqsa mosque.
Revered by Jews as the site of the two ancient temples, and by Muslims as the third-holiest site in Islam, the compound in Jerusalem’s Old City is the most combustible focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian officials have expressed mounting concern over a recent campaign by Israeli religious advocates and lawmakers to lift a ban on Jewish prayer at the site.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
Hours before the vehicle attack, Palestinian youths angered by a planned visit to the al Aqsa plaza by Israeli activists clashed there with police, who drove them back into the mosque. After the clash, Jordan, which retains custodial rights over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, recalled its ambassador to Israel for consultations in protest of what it described as “increasing and unprecedented Israeli escalation in the Noble Sanctuary” and Israeli “violations” in Jerusalem. The Jordanian information minister accused Israeli police of storming al Aqsa and damaging the building.
Witnesses to the vehicle attack said the Palestinian motorist had struck three border policemen as they crossed a road, killing one and seriously injuring two others, before speeding toward a light-rail station, where he rammed into a group of people and then into several cars.
The man next emerged from the vehicle and attacked pedestrians with an iron bar before a border police officer shot and killed him, according to the reports.
Hospital officials said that one of the injured was in critical condition and three others had been seriously hurt.
The militant Islamist group Hamas praised what it described as a “heroic running-over operation,” calling it retaliation for the “blood” of Palestinians and “the sacredness of al Aqsa mosque.”
The driver was identified as Ibrahim al Akari, 38, a father of five whose brother was released and exiled to Turkey in a prisoner exchange with Hamas in 2012.
Israel Radio reported that Akari’s Facebook page carried plans to block efforts by Israeli activists to expand Jewish access to the Temple Mount and included videos of a Palestinian who shot and seriously wounded Yehuda Glick, a prominent Israeli campaigner for Jewish prayer at the site, a week ago.
Plans by Glick’s supporters to visit the Temple Mount on Wednesday to mark a week since he was shot set off the confrontation at the site between masked Palestinians, who threw rocks and firecrackers, and Israeli riot police. Police said they used stun grenades to disperse the youth, but Palestinians reported one protester seriously injured by a sponge-tipped bullet.
The car attack was similar to an incident Oct. 22 in which a Palestinian driver rammed pedestrians near a light-rail station, killing a 3-month-old child and a young woman before he was shot and killed.
The Israeli interior minister, Yitzhak Aharonovich, said at the scene of Wednesday’s incident that he’d recommend demolishing the family homes of the Palestinian assailants to deter further attacks.
The Israeli police chief, Yohanan Danino, said 1,000 additional officers had been dispatched to East Jerusalem, where tensions have been high since the summer, when a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and killed in revenge for the slaying of three Israeli youths in the West Bank.
The unrest has been fueled by Israel’s recent war against Hamas in Gaza and by growing Palestinian alarm over the push by Israeli rightists to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly pledged this week to maintain the status quo at the al Aqsa compound, which is administered by an Islamic trust and where only Muslim prayer is permitted, though Israelis and tourists can visit.
Netanyahu’s statement followed sharp protests from the Palestinians and Jordan after Israel closed the compound for several hours last Thursday to head off unrest.
After Wednesday’s attack, Netanyahu was more combative, accusing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of abetting the violence. “The terrorist attack in Jerusalem is a direct result of the incitement of Abu Mazen and his partners in Hamas,” Netanyahu said, referring to Abbas by his nickname.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Hamas had claimed responsibility for the attack.