JERUSALEM — A Palestinian man attacked the driver and passengers on a crowded bus during rush hour in central Tel Aviv early Wednesday, wounding at least 13 people, some of them critically, Israeli authorities said.
The 23-year-old Palestinian suspect was then shot in the legs and apprehended by security officers traveling nearby, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. He said the man was from the West Bank Palestinian town of Tulkarem. Palestinian media identified him as Hamza Matrouk.
A witness, identified only as Yaakov by Israel Army Radio, said the attacker first stabbed the bus driver, who attempted to overpower him, and then turned toward passengers, who tried to flee.
At least 12 people were taken to hospitals in and around Tel Aviv after being treated by paramedics for stab wounds, officials said. The attack left several people in critical condition, including the bus driver, officials said. Other passengers were also treated for shock.
Police went on high alert after the incident, which occurred during the morning rush hour in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial heart.
“I was at the back and understood immediately from the screaming what was happening, people were suddenly running towards me and it was only luck that saved me,” said Yaakov, who was suffering from shock. Suddenly the doors opened and people ran off the bus screaming, and the attacker followed them, he said.
Moses Collins, who was traveling nearby, said he saw the doors of the bus suddenly open and people running off screaming. “I saw a lot of blood, too much blood, it was not easy, I tried to help people,” he said.
Izzat Risheq, a leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, called the attack a “heroic and a brave operation.”
“It is a natural reaction to the occupation crimes and terrorism against our people,” said Risheq, writing on Twitter.
Israel and Hamas fought a grueling 50-day war last summer, which left more than 2,000 people dead, the overwhelming majority of them Palestinians in Gaza, according to United Nations figures. Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been rising steadily ever since.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Wednesday’s attack on the “venomous incitement” of the Palestinian Authority, including its president, Mahmoud Abbas, toward Jews and their state. The Palestinian Authority runs the West Bank.
“Hamas, Abbas’s partner in the unity government, hurried to welcome this act — the same Hamas that announced it will sue Israel in the ICC,” said Netanyahu, referring to recent steps taken by the Palestinians to prosecute Israelis for alleged human rights violations in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Other Israeli ministers, including hard-line Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, also said that Abbas was “responsible for the terror attack in Tel Aviv by inciting against Israel night and day.”
Wednesday’s was the second stabbing attack to take place in the heart of Tel Aviv in as many months. In early November, an Israeli soldier was fatally stabbed by a Palestinian man next to a busy train station, also in the city center.
Since the summer war in Gaza, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been running high, with both sides experiencing a surge in violence.
At least 12 Israelis have been killed in attacks by Palestinians both within Israel and in the West Bank, including an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue in which two Palestinians killed four Israelis worshipers and a police officer.
Tensions have also been high in the Palestinian areas, with Palestinian news agency Maan reporting that more than 50 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank at the hands of the Israeli military in 2014, the highest number in decades.
This week has also seen violent protests inside Israel by Arab citizens after two residents of the Bedouin city of Rahat in southern Israel were fatally shot by Israeli police.
Daniela Deane in London and Hazem Balousha in Gaza contributed to this report.