JERUSALEM — A Palestinian driver intentionally rammed his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers Sunday, killing four and wounding a dozen on a picture-postcard promenade overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City and a park called the “Peace Forest.”
The assault occurred just blocks from the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and down the street from the United Nations headquarters.
The dead soldiers — three women and one man, all in their early 20s — were part of a large group of officer cadets who were getting an educational tour.
Israeli officials quickly labeled the truck-ramming a terrorist attack and said the driver was from a nearby East Jerusalem neighborhood.
The Islamist militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, applauded the “heroic operation” but did not assert responsibility for it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visiting the scene several hours after the attack, said the assailant showed “all the signs he was a supporter of the Islamic State” militant group.
It was one of the deadliest attacks in more than a year of stabbings, shootings and vehicular assaults by Palestinians. It comes just a week before a planned conference in Paris that seeks to push Israelis and Palestinians to restart their stalled peace talks.
Leah Schreiber, a tour guide escorting the soldiers, said she saw the truck accelerate and jump the curb, plowing into uniformed troops who had just exited their bus.
“It took a few seconds to understand what was happening,” Schreiber said. “That this was a terror attack.”
Graphic surveillance video from the scene shows a large white Mercedes-Benz truck careening into the soldiers and then rapidly backing up in circles, running over the wounded, as the soldiers fled.
Eitan Rod, an armed tour guide, told Israel’s Army Radio that he was chatting with several officers when he saw the truck roaring toward him. He dived onto the grass.
“I saw the truck start to reverse and then I already understood that this was not an accident,” he said. “I felt that my pistol was still on me, so I ran up to him and started emptying my clip. He went in reverse and again drove over the injured.”
Rod told Israeli television that he wondered why army officers at the scene did not immediately open fire. He blamed Israeli military authorities, who last week convicted a soldier of manslaughter in the killing of an unarmed Palestinian assailant in Hebron as he lay wounded.
Israeli army spokesmen, however, countered the claim of hesitancy by releasing a video of a soldier describing how he fired his rifle at the driver, who was shot dead in his truck.
Chen Lendi Sharon, a paramedic with the Magen David Adom emergency service, said he arrived at a chaotic scene, with wounded soldiers trapped under the truck.
Police chief Roni Alsheich said there was no warning before the attack.
“You don’t need more than two to three seconds to find a terrorist target. The soldiers at the scene reacted immediately and killed the attacker,” he said.
Rescue workers said three women and a man were killed in the attack. Israel later identified them as Lt. Erez Orbach, Lt. Shira Tzur, Lt. Shir Hajaj and Lt. Yael Yekutiel.
In a statement, Netanyahu described the attack as “part of the same pattern inspired by Islamic State, by ISIS, that we saw first in France, then in Germany and now in Jerusalem,” referring to rampages by truck drivers at the seaside corniche in Nice in July and the Berlin Christmas market last month.
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, asserted responsibility for the attacks in France and Germany, declaring that its “soldiers” were responding to its call to target nations fighting the group in Iraq and Syria.
Netanyahu did not immediately offer any evidence that the Jerusalem attack was inspired by the Islamic State or that the assailant was a supporter of the group.
There have been many similar attacks by Palestinians that have been inspired by nationalistic, religious and personal motives, and not the Islamic State, according to Israeli security officials.
Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said the Sunday attack was driven by the upcoming Paris conference.
“The world has received a clear answer from the Palestinians to the peace conference coming up in Paris: more terror,” Hotovely said in a statement.
Palestinian leaders have stressed that they support the conference as a way to avoid violence — not stoke it — by seeking a peaceful resolution through international diplomacy and renewed talks with Israel.
Arab-language news media identified the truck driver as Fadi al-Kanbar from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber. Israeli TV reports said Kanbar was in his 20s and married with children.
In Washington, Mark Toner, deputy spokesman at the State Department, said: “There is absolutely no justification for these brutal and senseless attacks. We condemn the glorification of terrorism now or at any time and call on all to send a clear message that terrorism must never be tolerated.”