JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian assailants carried out a pair of attacks on Friday, killing three people and wounding at least six as tensions soared after days of fighting at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, officials said. Earlier in the day, retaliatory Israeli airstrikes had hit Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, sparking fears of a broader conflict.
Israeli authorities said an Italian tourist was killed and five other Italian and British citizens were wounded 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 heightened fears of an even more intense surge, with the rare convergence of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, the Jewish Passover holiday and Easter currently underway.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was calling up all reserve forces in Israel’s border police, a paramilitary force usually deployed to suppress Palestinian unrest, “to confront the terror attacks.”
The additional border police would be activated Sunday and join other units that have recently been deployed in Jerusalem and Lod, a town in central Israel with a mixed Jewish and Palestinian population.
Israel had unleashed rare airstrikes on Lebanon and bombarded the Gaza Strip on Friday morning, but later in the day there were signs that both sides were trying to keep the border hostilities in check. The fighting subsided after dawn, and midday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem — a flashpoint for violence in recent days — passed peacefully.
The round of violence erupted after Israeli police raided the mosque earlier in the week, sparking unrest in the contested capital and outrage across the Arab world. Militants fired an unusually large rocket barrage at Israel from southern Lebanon on Thursday — some of the heaviest and most serious cross-border violence since Israel’s 2006 war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants — as well as from Gaza.
In the Tel Aviv car-ramming late Friday, the alleged attacker rammed his vehicle into a group of civilians near a popular seaside park, police said. Israel’s rescue service said a 30-year-old Italian man was killed, while five other British and Italian tourists — including a 74-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl — 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 hurtling along a sidewalk for several hundred yards (meters) before crashing out of control.
Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni’s office expressed “closeness to the family of the victim” and “solidarity with the Israel for the vile attack.” She identified the man killed as Alessandro Parini from Rome.
The shooting in the West Bank meanwhile killed the two sisters, who were 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 lived 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 smashed car, which appeared to have been pushed off the road.
No groups claimed responsibility for either attack. But the Hamas militant group that rules Gaza praised both incidents as retaliation for Israeli raids earlier this week on the Al-Aqsa mosque — the third-holiest site in Islam. On Tuesday, police arrested and beat hundreds of Palestinians there, who responded by hurling rocks and firecrackers at officers.
Friday’s airstrikes on neighboring Lebanon targeted Hamas militant sites, the Israeli military said, accusing the group of firing the nearly three dozen rockets that slammed into open areas and towns in northern Israel on Thursday. The bombardment seemed 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 lightly wounded.
“I immediately gathered my wife and children and got them out of the house,” said Qalili resident Bilal Suleiman, who was jolted awake by the bombing.
A flock of sheep was killed when the Israeli missiles struck 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, Israel’s military pounded what it said were Hamas weapons production sites and underground tunnels. A children’s hospital in Gaza City was among sites sustaining damage, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
After the retaliatory strikes, Israelis living along the southern border returned home from bomb shelters. Most missiles that managed to cross into Israeli territory hit open areas, but one landed in the town of Sderot, sending shrapnel slicing into a house.
There were no reports of casualties on either side of the southern border.
The Israeli military said everyone wanted to avoid a full-blown conflict. “Quiet will be answered with quiet,” said spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht. A Qatari official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the emirate was mediating.
Even as a fragile calm took hold along the Lebanese and Gaza borders, the West Bank remained volatile. Violence has surged to new heights there in recent months, with Palestinian health officials reporting the start of 2023 to be the most deadly for Palestinians in two decades.
Nearly 90 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank since the start of the year, at least half of them affiliated with militant groups, according to an Associated Press tally. During that time, 17 people have been 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 beefed up forces in the field.”
Al-Aqsa has long been a nexus of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the skirmishes between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police at the holy compound this week spiraled into a regional confrontation. The mosque sits on a hilltop sacred to both Muslims and Jews. In 2021, an escalation triggered by clashes there spilled over into an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Before dawn prayers Friday, chaos erupted at an entrance to the esplanade as Israeli police wielding batons descended on crowds of Palestinian worshippers who chanted slogans praising Hamas as they tried to squeeze into the site. Later, people leaving prayers staged a large protest on the limestone courtyard, raising their fists, shouting against Israel and waving Hamas flags. Israeli police said they forced their way into the compound in response to “masked suspects” who threw rocks toward officers at a gate.
Israeli authorities control access to the area but the compound is administered by Islamic and Jordanian officials.
The unrest comes at a delicate time for Jerusalem’s Old City, which was suffused with religious fervor and teeming with pilgrims from around the world. The Christian faithful retraced the route Jesus is said to have taken for Good Friday and Jews celebrated the weeklong Passover holiday, while Muslims prayed and fasted for Ramadan.
Associated Press writer Abby Sewell in Beirut, Jill Lawless in London, Frances D’Emilio in Rome and Joseph Krauss in Ottawa, Canada, contributed to this report.