World

Israel Bolsters Security Amid Deadliest Wave of Terrorist Attacks in Years

BNEI BRAK, Israel — Israel security forces bolstered their presence across the country and the occupied territories early Wednesday, the morning after a Palestinian gunman killed five people in the fifth attack in less than two weeks.

The recent surge in violence and fears of even more attacks prompted the Army to send reinforcements to the occupied West Bank, where the gunman behind Tuesday night’s attack lived. Forces also deployed along the boundary between Israel and Gaza. The police said they were turning their focus almost exclusively to counterterrorism operations while scaling up their presence on the streets.

The attack came on the eve of Land Day, an annual Palestinian commemoration of Arab protests in 1976 against state efforts to expropriate private Palestinian land in northern Israel. Those protests helped catalyze Palestinian national consciousness.

“After a period of quiet, there is a violent eruption by those who want to destroy us, those who want to hurt us at any price, whose hatred of Jews, of the State of Israel, drives them crazy,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a video he recorded himself because he is currently infected with the coronavirus and isolating. “They are prepared to die — so that we will not live in peace.”

Though there was no immediate claim of responsibility, several Palestinian militant groups praised the attack including an official from Hamas, the militant group that runs the Gaza Strip. He said the attack was a response to a landmark diplomatic summit on Monday in southern Israel, where foreign ministers from four Arab countries met on Israeli soil for the first time, a gathering that bolstered Israel’s regional legitimacy to the dismay of Palestinians.

But Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, broke from his usual habit of remaining silent after terror attacks in Israel and condemned the shooting, as did a prominent Arab-Israeli politician.

The attack was the latest in a wave of violence that has killed 11 people in Israel, making March one of the deadliest months in Israel, outside of a full-scale war, in several years.

In the past few weeks, officials have repeatedly expressed concerns that violence will escalate once the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts later this week, begins. Ramadan is frequently a time of heightened tension between Palestinians and Israelis, and Ramadan-related disputes helped stoke the tensions that led to an 11-day war in Gaza last year.

Ramadan this year was already expected to be more tense than usual because it will converge with Passover and Easter — a rare occurrence expected to lead to more Muslims, Jews and Christians gathering at shared religious sites in Jerusalem.

Israeli emergency personnel at the scene of the attack in the city of Bnei Brak, the latest in a wave of violence that has killed 11 people.Credit…Abir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock

Video circulating on social media on Wednesday showed a heavy Israeli military presence in the gunman’s home village near the West Bank city of Jenin. Some West Bank Jewish settlements shut their gates to Palestinian workers, according to Kan, the Israeli public broadcaster. But tens of thousands of Palestinian workers were allowed to leave the West Bank for day labor in Israel as usual, Kan reported.

Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in 1967 and has occupied it ever since. The Israeli Army maintains a heavy military presence there, in part to maintain its control over the area and in part to protect the hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers who have moved to the West Bank since 1967. Its forces mount daily incursions into the nearly 40 percent of the territory under the management of the Palestinian Authority.

More than 80 Palestinians were killed by soldiers and settlers in the West Bank last year, and at least 15 so far in 2022, according to the United Nations.

Most of the victims of the recent attacks have been Israeli Jews, but some were also members of Israel’s Arab minority, and at least two had foreign passports.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, condemned the shooting, breaking his usual habit of remaining silent after terrorist attacks in Israel.Credit…Alaa Badarneh/EPA, via Shutterstock

Details began to emerge about the victims of the attack, whose funerals began on Wednesday morning. One was identified as Avishai Yechezkel, a 29-year-old teacher and rabbi, who was killed while going for a walk near his apartment in Bnei Brak, the religious city in central Israel where the attack occurred, according to an Israeli news outlet.

A second victim, Amir Khoury, 32, was an Arab-Israeli policeman who died in the hospital after a shootout in which he helped kill the attacker, the police said. Mr. Khoury drove a motorcycle toward the shooter, allowing his partner, seated behind him, to shoot at the assailant.

A third victim was identified as Yaakov Shalom, a 36-year-old Bnei Brak resident, and the remaining two were Ukrainian citizens, the Ukrainian embassy said Wednesday morning. It was not immediately clear whether they were recently arrived war refugees, or longtime dual nationals of Israel and Ukraine.

Among the Palestinian militant groups that praised the attack was the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is loosely affiliated with Fatah, the secular party headed by Mr. Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president.

The attack on Tuesday followed another unusually brazen assault in northern Israel on Sunday night, when two Islamic State supporters killed two policemen, one of them a member of Israel’s Arab Druze minority.

That attack came less than a week after another in southern Israel in which a Bedouin extremist stabbed three people to death and killed a fourth in a car ramming.

Relatives and service members attended the funeral of one of the two policemen killed on Sunday by Islamic State supporters in northern Israel.Credit…Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The attacks have unfolded despite some Israeli efforts to ease certain tensions in the buildup to Ramadan. Israel recently approved more work permits for Palestinians in the occupied territories and the Israeli Supreme Court agreed to postpone the evictions of several Palestinian families in an East Jerusalem neighborhood that was central to the tensions that led to last year’s Gaza war.

Mansour Abbas, an Arab Israeli politician who leads the first independent Arab party to join an Israeli government, condemned the attack.

“We all stand together in the face of a murderous wave of terror,” he said. Terrorists, he added, do not distinguish between Arabs and Jews.

In the Israeli media on Wednesday morning, reactions ranged from demands for a decisive security response to calls for calm, amid fears that any drastic action might inflame the situation further.

“The ball is now in Israel’s court,” wrote Alex Fishman, military affairs correspondent for Yedioth Ahronot, a major centrist newspaper. “Any mistaken move, any emotional and hastily made decision, is liable to send us back to the dark days of countless suicide bombing attacks inside Israeli territory.”

Irit Pazner Garshowitz contributed reporting from Tzur Hadassah, Israel, and Rawan Sheikh Ahmad from Haifa, Israel. Reporting was contributed by Gabby Sobelman in Bnei Brak, Israel.

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