JERUSALEM (AP) — A Palestinian man rammed a minivan into a crowded train platform in east Jerusalem on Wednesday and then attacked people with an iron bar after leaving the vehicle, killing one person and injuring 13 in what authorities called a terror attack before he was shot dead by police.
The militant Hamas group took responsibility for the attack — the second such assault in east Jerusalem in the past two weeks — which escalated already heightened tensions between Arabs and Jews in the city.
Earlier Wednesday, Israeli police had dispersed dozens of masked Palestinians who threw rocks and firecrackers near a contested holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City. Neighboring Jordan called back the kingdom’s ambassador to Israel for consultations in a gesture of protest over the violence in east Jerusalem.
Police said the motorist slammed his car — a white minivan — into the train platform in east Jerusalem first, backed out and proceeded to drive away, hitting several cars along the way. He then got out of the car and attacked a group of civilians and police officers on the side of the road with a metal bar before he was shot and killed. Security camera footage appeared to show him darting about a crowded intersection before he was shot.
Israeli police said “one person was killed and about a dozen people were injured in the terror attack.”
Police identified the attacker as Ibrahim al-Akri, a 38-year-old Palestinian, and said he had recently been released from prison after serving time for security offenses.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said al-Akri was a member of the group and that his brother was in exile in Turkey after being released in a 2011 prisoner swap. Hamas’ West Bank commander, Saleh Arouri, is based in Turkey.
It said in a statement that al-Akri, “whose blood watered the land of the occupied holy city of Jerusalem, preferred but to retaliate for the blood of his people and the sacredness of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem.”
Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum praised the “glorious operation” and called for more such attacks.
Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies, and fought a bruising 50-day war over the summer. Israel had no immediate response to the Hamas claim.
Israel’s Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Ahronovich said civilians and police officers were among the victims. He praised the police officer who killed al-Akri, saying that “a terrorist who attacks civilians deserves to be killed.”
The attack was almost identical to one two weeks ago, also committed by a Palestinian from east Jerusalem who rammed his car into a crowded train station, killing a 3-month-old Israeli-American girl and a woman from Ecuador — not far from the scene of Wednesday’s attack.
East Jerusalem has experienced unrest since the summer, with Palestinian youths throwing stones and firebombs at motorists and clashing frequently with Israeli police.
Israel captured east Jerusalem — with its sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians — from Jordan in the 1967 war. Palestinians demand the territory for their future capital. The fate of the area is an emotional issue for Jews and Muslims and its future lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Much of the recent unrest has focused around a sacred compound revered by both Jews and Muslims. It’s the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount because of the Jewish Temples that stood there in biblical times. Muslims refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and it is their third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Wednesday’s car attack came shortly after clashes in the Old City, where Palestinians threw rocks and firecrackers at police to protest a planned visit to a key holy site by Israeli supporters of a rabbi who was shot by a Palestinian gunman last week.
The Israelis had planned on commemorating a week since the attack on American-Israeli activist Yehuda Glick, who has campaigned for more Jewish access to the location, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount and Muslims refer to as the Noble Sanctuary. Palestinians view such visits as a provocation and often respond violently. Glick remains in serious condition.
Several police officers were hurt in Wednesday’s clashes, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, adding that the police used stun grenades to disperse the Palestinians. Quiet was soon restored, he said.
Muslim worshippers view Jewish prayer at the site as a provocation, and Israeli authorities place tough restrictions on it. Everyone visiting the area from the Israeli side has to be screened by police.
The Jordanian government meanwhile instructed the foreign ministry to call in the kingdom’s ambassador to Israel for consultation in a gesture meant to protest the violence in east Jerusalem. Under a longstanding arrangement with Israel, Jordan retains custodial rights over Muslim holy sites in the Old City.
Associated Press writers Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, and Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.