Israel is on its highest possible level of threat from terrorism today, following the thwarting of another suspected attack today and a deadly mass shooting last night.
By Erin Viner
A Palestinian gunman killed 5 Israelis in the predominately ultra-Orthodox Jewish city east of Tel Aviv before being fatally shot in an exchange of gunfire with police shortly after 8 PM Tuesday evening.
After entering Israel illegally on a motorcycle armed with an M-16 automatic rifle, Diaa Hamarsheh, 26, of the West Bank village of Ya’bad near Jenin, opened fire at two separate locations at a time when the streets were filled with shoppers and pedestrians. Witnesses said he began shooting at people outside on apartment balconies, and then at others on the street and in a car.
Israeli police officer Amir Khouri, a 32-year-old Arab-Israeli resident of Nazareth, was among the first to respond to the attack. He fell in the line of duty after an exchange of gunfire with the terrorist. His partner shot and killed Hamarsheh, bringing the murder spree to an end.
Praising Khouri’s heroism, Israeli Police Commissioner Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai later told Khoury’s father that his son’s loss is a heavy blow to the force, and that his actions “saved the lives of many civilians will be remembered for his bravery.” The young officer is survived by his parents and three siblings.
Other victims include Avishai Yhezkel, a 29-year-old teacher who died while trying to shelter his 2-year old son in a stroller, survived by his wife who is expecting the couples’ second child. Rabbi Yaakov Shalom, a 36-year-old father of five, was also murdered while driving his car; as were two as-of-yet unnamed Ukrainian nationals working in Israel, aged 23 and 32, who were outside a grocery store.
The shooting raised to 11 the number of people killed by Arab gunmen in Israel during three separate deadly attacks in Israel in a week, marking the sharpest spike in attacks on city streets in years. Two young Border Police officers were shot and killed during a shooting by a pair of gunmen in Hadera, and a lone assailant killed four people in a car ramming and stabbing attack in Beersheba. Both killers were affiliated with the Islamic State terror group.
Yet another suspected terror attack was thwarted by Jerusalem police today at the crowded outdoor Mahane Yehuda Market. Two Arab residents of Jerusalem were shot and lightly wounded after they “brutally attacked” approaching officers with “punches and chokeholds,” said a police statement. One officer was also lightly injured during the incident.
“Israel is facing a wave of murderous Arab terror,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stated following last night’s attack.
The Premier immediately held an assessment of the security situation with the participation Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Israel Security Agency Director Ronen Bar, Police Commissioner Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai, the Director of the National Security Council and additional officials. They discussed additional operational steps to be taken by the security forces as the country braces for more attacks during upcoming observance of the Islamic month of Ramadan, set to begin on Saturday.
The Ministerial Committee on National Security Affairs (the Security Cabinet) is being convened again today to discuss the surge of Arab violence.
Expressing “tremendous appreciation for the security forces that neutralized the terrorist” and his sincere condolences to the families of the victims, Defense Minister Gantz reassured the public that “the IDF and all security forces are deployed and prepared to bring back peace and quiet and to defend Israeli citizens everywhere. We will operate forcefully against any terror activities and any terrorist, and will continue reinforcing security on the ground.”
The Ukrainian Embassy in Israel condemned the “heinous” terror attack and confirmed “with deep sorrow” that two citizens of Ukraine were among victims.”
“We express our condolences and sympathy to the families of the deceased. The upscale of violence and terrorism is unacceptable and it must be stopped,” added the Ukrainian Embassy.
There has been a flurry of Israeli diplomatic activity to deescalate surging tensions with the Palestinians to coordinate strategies toward securing calm during upcoming observance of Ramadan, particularly in Jerusalem, a frequent flashpoint of Palestinian protests,
Israeli President Isaac Herzog is holding talks today with Jordanian King Abdullah II at the Al Husseiniya Palace in Amman, just one day after Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz did the same. This, following a visit to discuss the same matter with the Hashemite Monarch by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
Earlier this week, King Abdullah made a rare visit to the Ramallah headquarters of the Palestinian Authority (PA) for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Concern over over a resurgence of Palestinian rioting during the Islamic holiday was also a topic of discussion in Washington recently between top United States officials and the Director of the Israeli Security Agency (ISA), Ronen Bar.
Last year, Ramadan was marred by serious clashes between Palestinian rioters and Israeli police in Jerusalem, holy to all three faiths. The wave of violence helped stoke the 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls last May, when Palestinian terror groups in Gaza fired over 4,000 missiles at Israel – starting in Jerusalem.