December 7, 2022

Three killed in central Israel attack, police launch manhunt

Israeli security forces are pictured at the scene of an attack in the central city of Elad on May 5


Israeli security forces are pictured at the scene of an attack in the central city of Elad on May 5 – Copyright AFP JACK GUEZ

Ahmad Gharabli with Ben Simon in Jerusalem

Three people were killed in an attack in the central Israeli city of Elad, as the Jewish state marked the anniversary of its founding on Thursday, and follows a brief lull in deadly unrest.

Police said that a manhunt using helicopters and roadblocks had been launched, with a larger number of officers and army units pursuing “one or two terrorists.” 

The Magen David Adom emergency response service, which confirmed the deaths, said three others were in a serious condition after the incident, which follows a series of fatal attacks committed by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs in recent weeks.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said “the joy of independence day had been interrupted in an instant,” condemning the “murderous attack in Elad.”

Two others suffered moderate or light injuries, according to the MDA, which is Israel’s version of the Red Cross.

Few details had emerged on how the attack was carried out, but several Israeli media reports said the assailants carried knives, or an axe. Other reports suggested the attackers had used firearms.

“The terrorists have not yet been apprehended,” added the police, who said it appeared the violence played out across several locations in the same area.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was due to meet his security chiefs on the incident, while Defence Minister Benny Gantz announced that a closure of the occupied West Bank — in place for the Israeli independence day — would remain in force through Sunday.  

– ‘Complex scene’ –

MDA paramedic Alon Rizkan, a first responder, described it as a “complex scene,” identifying all of the dead as men in their early 40s. Those who suffered serious injuries were men aged between 35-60, according to the MDA.

The majority of Elad’s 50,000 residents are members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, known as haredim.

Another majority haredi city, Bnei Brak, which also lies on the outskirts of the coastal city of Tel Aviv, was targeted in March.

It was one of the areas hit in the string of attacks since March 22 that, prior to Thursday’s incident, had killed 15 people including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians, in separate attacks inside Israel.

Two of the deadly attacks were carried out in the Tel Aviv area by Palestinians.

A total of 27 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs have died during the same period, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations.

For Palestinians, the anniversary of Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence marks the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, when more than 700,000 fled or were expelled during the war surrounding Israel’s creation. 

Hamas Islamists who control the Israeli-blockaded Gaza strip and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian armed group, praised the Elad attack as a consequence of unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound. Neither group claimed the violence. 

“This operation demonstrates our people’s anger at the occupation’s attacks on holy sites,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said of the Elad attack. 

“The storming of the Al-Aqsa mosque cannot go unpunished.”

Fresh clashes broke out at earlier Thursday at Al-Aqsa, which is also the holiest site in Judaism, where it is known as the Temple Mount. 

The latest morning violence at the flashpoint site came following a tense April, in which nearly 300 people were injured in clashes between police and Palestinians at Al-Aqsa.