TEL AVIV – On Friday, Israeli forces were conducting a full-scale search for two Palestinians suspected of killing three Israelis the night before in an attack that further fueled tensions that have been building up for more than a month.
According to witnesses and an Israeli defense official, two attackers, including at least one armed with an ax, killed three people and injured many others in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Elad in central Israel on Thursday night.
On Friday night, Israeli officials claimed that one of the victims had taken the two attackers to Elad, unaware of their murderous plans.
Oren Ben-Yiftah, 35, a father of six from Lod, Israel, had given the men a lift, according to two defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The attackers killed him in his car, then attacked the others.
Police said they were looking for a vehicle seen fleeing the scene of the attack.
“We are investing an enormous amount of information and operational effort,” Israeli police commissioner Kobi Shabtai said Friday, “to track their escape route.”
The violence erupted on Israeli independence day, a national holiday. But many Palestinians commemorate the day as what they call the “nakba” or “catastrophe”.
The killings on Thursday brought the death toll to 19 a wave of Arab attacks since the end of March: the worst wave of murders in recent years, outside of an all-out war. Israel responded with a series of raids in the occupied West Bank and nearly 30 Palestinians were killed in the violence, according to local media. Most of them were involved in attacks or clashes with Israeli forces.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions have been exacerbated by repeated outbreaks of violence in the Al Aqsa Mosque complex, the holiest site in Jerusalem for Muslims and Jews, who venerate it as the Temple Mount, the site of two ancient temples. Jews. It is a frequent melting pot of violence that can quickly escalate into a much larger conflagration.
Israel and Hamas fought an 11-day war a year ago, fueled in large part by the controversies surrounding the same holy place. But both sides have signaled in the past month that they want to avoid another war.
Despite concerns about another confrontation Thursday in the mosque complex, it was relatively calm there. However, the Palestinian Authority, which administers the West Bank; and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that dominates the Gaza Strip, he made strident statements in which he denounced some actions of the Israeli police during the day.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack on Elad, which was close to an Independence Day rally with hundreds of attendees. It was not immediately clear whether the rally was the target of the attack.
A Hamas spokesman praised the attack as “a courageous and heroic act” and “a natural response to the violations of the occupation against the blessed Al Aqsa mosque”.
On Saturday, Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar warned that any further Israeli police forays into the mosque complex would elicit a response. In a fiery speech, he urged members of the Israeli Arab minority to “prepare cleavers, axes or knives”.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack.
Israeli police said last Thursday that they had set up checkpoints along several roads and that officers in helicopters had been deployed to search for the vehicle that was seen fleeing from the site of the attack on Elad.
Authorities said they were looking for two suspects, aged 19 and 20, from a village near the West Bank city of Jenin. Many other assailants from the recent wave of attacks also came from the Jenin area, and Israeli forces conducted arrest raids in and around the city that sometimes resulted in gunfights.
An Israeli defense official said Friday’s searches were focusing on Israeli territory and that the forces were on high alert in case the same attackers attempted to strike again. Unlike previous attacks, authorities published the names and photos of the suspects for fear that they would try to pretend to be Israeli, the official added.