JERUSALEM — A car rammed into a crowd Friday at a Jerusalem bus stop, killing a 6-year-old and one other, and injuring five, including an 8-year-old who is in critical condition. The Palestinian driver was fatally shot at the scene, Israeli police reported.
The car-ramming, in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, is the latest in a spiraling cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Tensions are rising fast amid the return to power of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads Israel’s most right-wing government to date as he wages a battle for constitutional reforms, alongside a deepening political void and insecurity among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
Israeli forces on Thursday fatally shot a Palestinian in the West Bank city of Hebron after he allegedly charged a checkpoint with a knife. Israeli forces and settlers have killed more than 40 Palestinians in the occupied territory this year — the highest rate in years.
In response to Friday’s attack, Netanyahu reinforced security in the area and called for arrests and for the alleged assailant’s house to be sealed off and demolished. Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion called for expanding security at bus stations in the city, as other officials called for further security measures.
Israel’s response to “terrorism is to strike with all our might,” the prime minister said.
Israel frequently demolishes the family homes of alleged Palestinian assailants, a practice human rights groups have criticized as a violation of international law. Palestinian rights groups have also condemned Israel’s fatal shooting of combatants and civilians, including minors, typically without any investigation and in some cases for incidents such as stone-throwing. Israel says its response is needed to protect soldiers and civilians.
Eyewitnesses told Israeli media that a blue Mazda sedan rammed into people waiting at the bus stop hours before the start of the Jewish sabbath. Several Israeli bystanders reportedly drew their guns as the attack unfolded.
A medic with Magen David Adom described the scene of the attack as “shocking” and said victims with traumatic wounds were strewn around the street and sidewalk.
Yossi Gottesman, a spokesmanfor Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, where the victims were brought, said the injured included a man in his 20s in moderate condition. The 8-year-old’s life is in “immediate danger,” he said.
The attack took place in the Ramot neighborhood of East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 and soon after annexed, a move not recognized by most of the international community. Peace plans have long slated East Jerusalem to be part of a future Palestinian state, though Jewish Israeli communities in the area continue to expand. Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. Israel disputes the characterization.
Most Palestinians in East Jerusalem are stateless and not Israeli citizens; rather, they are classed as permanent residents, a status that Israel can revoke.
Israeli media identified the alleged assailant as a resident of Issawiya, an impoverished Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem that borders the prestigious Hebrew University.
Speaking at the scene, Israel’s extreme-right minister of national security, Itamar Ben Gvir, said he ordered Israeli police to set up checkpoints around Issawiya and to check each passing car, Israeli army radio reported.
Ben Gvir said he wanted to entirely shut off the densely packed area, but he couldn’t due to a “legal question,” Galatz radio reported.
Ben Gvir — who was previously banned from Israel’s parliament for being part of an anti-Arab terrorist group — was appointed to head the ministry as part of a deal late last year that enabled Netanyahu to return to office and end four years of political deadlock. The Israeli prime minister is trying to push through controversial judicial reforms that would shield him from an ongoing corruption trial — a move that has elicited a fierce backlash among some Israelis and hotly divided the country.
An angry crowd encircled Ben Gvir at the scene, some chanting “death to terrorists,” Reuters reported.
Israel has struggled to control so-called “lone wolf” attacks by Palestinians targeting Israeli soldiers and civilians amid the rise of small-scale and largely unaffiliated armed groups popping up across the West Bank. While in recent years alleged Palestinian assailants have often targeted Israelis with knives and car-rammings, shooting attacks are now also on the rise, in part due to the proliferation of guns throughout the occupied West Bank among Palestinians and Israelis.
Over the past year Israel has conducted near-daily and often-deadly raids in West Bank cities and villages. Palestinians say they are responding to the Israeli occupation of their land and restrictions over much of their daily life.
Israeli forces on Monday killed five Palestinians in their 20s from a refugee camp in an early-morning raid on the typically quiet West Bank city of Jericho. Israel said two of those killed were wanted in a failed drive-by shooting of an Israeli restaurant in late January. Israel had put in place a semi-blockade of Jericho during the 10-day manhunt.
The violence followed a spate of deaths in late January, when Israeli forces killed 10 people in the Jenin refugee camp, including an elderly woman, in what it said was a raid on a militant cell in the northern West Bank. The following day, a Palestinian gunman killed seven people in a shooting attack outside a synagogue in a Jewish Israeli community in disputed East Jerusalem.
Dimiter Tzantchev, European Union ambassador to Israel, condemned Friday’s attack, offering “deepest condolences to the families of the victims” and saying that the E.U. “unequivocally condemns terrorism.”
Netanyahu has been under international pressure to control Ben Gvir and other settler activists and religious nationalists in his coalition who are pushing for the annexation of the West Bank and more restrictions on Palestinians.
He is simultaneously under domestic pressure to appease coalition partners as he tries to push through legislation that would limit judicial oversight of Israeli politicians and legislation. If passed, the legislation would shield Netanyahu from ongoing corruption charges, which for years have dogged Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
But the proposed legal changes have caused an outcry among many Israelis, who consider the country’s high court the last bastion of its democracy. In recent weeks, thousands of Israelis have attended weekly demonstrations against Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. The two bills in question are slated to have their first committee votes starting Monday. Netanyahu opponents have called for a nationwide strike that day and for Israelis to gather in protest outside the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence.