TEL AVIV — An 18-year-old Palestinian stabbed two Israelis to death and ran over a third with a vehicle Tuesday near the West Bank settlement of Ariel — the latest escalation in an Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has seen the highest death toll in years.
He then attacked another group of people at a nearby gas station and fled the scene with a stolen vehicle, crashing into several cars and running down a person. Israeli military forces shot him dead at the scene. Three others were critically injured.
The stabbing comes amid near-daily raids on Palestinian areas by Israeli forces in retaliation for earlier attacks and as a new right-wing government promising even harsher tactics comes to power.
The Israeli army said it was searching the area for a suspected accomplice who drove the attacker to the gate. Souf had no criminal record, though his father, a member of Fatah, the party ruling the West Bank, was previously imprisoned in Israel, according to Israeli media.
Odelia Shahaf, an EMT with Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency services, said she arrived at the scene of the attack on Route 5 and “saw a wounded man lying on the road. … While I started treating him, I heard shouts of ‘terrorist, terrorist’ and saw a man running with a knife in our direction. We started to run away, and people pulled out guns. He managed to stab a 35-year-old man before he was injured.”
The attack coincides with a swearing-in ceremony in the Israeli parliament. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu clinched a decisive victory in the Nov. 1 vote, in part thanks to support from the far-right party Religious Zionism, whose members have pledged to intensify Israel’s crackdown against Palestinians.
“Already, on the first day of the new Knesset, we receive a painful reminder of the most important and urgent issue on the table,” said Bezalel Smotrich, a West Bank settler who leads the Religious Zionism bloc and has demanded to be made head of the Defense Ministry. “We must restore security to all Israeli citizens and restore the eroded deterrence.”
“This is a wake-up call for the future government: The death penalty law for terrorists must be passed to put an end to terrorism. Only an iron hand will stamp out terrorism,” said firebrand politician Itamar Ben Gvir, who is expected to be appointed public security minister.
The position would place him in charge of the police, the prison systems and the al-Aqsa Mosque esplanade, a site that has served for decades as a flash point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has also advocated for giving Israeli security forces wider latitude to use live ammunition and to protect them from criminal prosecution for killing or injuring Palestinians.
Since the spring, when a spate of Palestinian attacks on Israelis left 19 dead, the largest number of fatalities in years, the Israeli military has been conducting near-nightly raids across the West Bank to dismantle Palestinian militant networks.
2022 is on track to be the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the United Nations began keeping records in 2005. Many of those killed were implicated in terrorist attacks, Israel’s security forces maintain, though they have said that civilians have been killed, too.
In May, the Palestinian American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was killed, spurring international outrage and an unprecedented U.S. investigation into Israeli military behavior.
A 15-year-old Palestinian girl, Fulla al-Masalma, was killed early Monday morning by Israeli soldiers who shot at her car in the West Bank town of Beitunia, near Ramallah, the Palestinian Health Ministry reported.
The escalation, many fear, could spill over into a broader conflict.
Tuesday’s attack was “a heroic stabbing operation that proves our nation’s ability to continue the revolution,” said Abd al-Latif al-Qanua, the spokesman of Hamas, the Islamist group ruling Gaza that has fought four wars with Israel.
Hazem Balousha in Gaza City contributed to this report.