A Palestinian man stabbed nine people, wounding some of them seriously, on a bus in central Tel Aviv before he was chased down, shot and arrested, Israeli police said Wednesday. The Islamic militant group Hamas praised the stabbing. (Jan. 21)
TEL AVIV, Israel — A Palestinian man stabbed 11 people on and near a bus in central Tel Aviv on Wednesday, seriously wounding three of them before he was shot and arrested by Israeli police.
Police described the assault as a "terrorist attack," and the Islamic militant group Hamas praised it. It appeared to be the latest in a series of "lone-wolf" attacks in which Palestinians have killed and wounded Israelis using knives, acid and vehicles, citing tensions surrounding a disputed Jerusalem holy site.
The man, who was riding the bus with the other passengers, began stabbing people, including the driver, then managed to get out of the bus and run away from the scene, stabbing a woman in the back on his way.
Officers from a prison service, who happened to be nearby, saw the bus swerving out of control and a man running away. They gave chase, shot the man in the leg, wounding him lightly, and arrested him.
"He had murder in his eyes," a bus passenger who gave her name as Orly, told Israel Radio.
Eleven people were stabbed and three remain in critical condition, according to Lee Gat, a spokeswoman at Tel Hashomer hospital, and a statement from the Ichilov hospital. Police earlier said nine people had been stabbed, citing initial numbers giving by paramedics at the scene.
Video aired by Israel's Channel 10 TV showed the attacker running in the street and stabbing a woman in the back as he tried to escape. Police confirmed that the attacker stabbed a woman as he attempted to flee.
Police identified the assailant as 23-year-old West Bank resident Hamza Mohammed Matrouk, a Palestinian who had entered Israel illegally.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Matrouk was in custody and undergoing questioning. Police said he confessed to the stabbing, saying he carried it out in response to last year's Gaza war and tensions surrounding a Jerusalem site holy to Jews and Muslims.
The stabbing appeared to be the latest in a series of attacks in recent months carried out by individual Palestinians with no known ties to armed groups, which have killed about a dozen people, including five killed when two men attacked a Jerusalem synagogue with guns and meat cleavers. Police say the attacks are almost impossible to prevent.
The violence comes weeks ahead of March elections, in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk, is facing a challenge from a joint list headed by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who support negotiations with the Palestinians. The violence could sway votes in Netanyahu's favor.
At the scene of the attack, a Jewish head covering lay beside headphones on the floor of the bus, with blood splattered nearby. Police sealed the central intersection where the attack occurred, which is typically clogged with cars, as paramedics tended to the wounded.
Herzl Biton, the bus driver, was stabbed in the upper body and liver and was in surgery, his niece Cheli Shushan said. She said he had tried to fight back and sprayed the attacker with pepper spray.
Biton called his friend, Kazis Matzliach, as the attack was unfolding, describing the mayhem. Matzliach said he could hear the sounds of screaming while his friend was talking, telling him if "something happens to me, please take care of my children."
Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, did not claim responsibility but praised Wednesday's attack as "brave and heroic" in a tweet by Izzat Risheq, a Hamas leader residing in Qatar.
The stabbing is a "natural response to the occupation and its terrorist crimes against our people," Risheq said.
Israeli officials say the attacks stem from incitement by the Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders.
"The terrorist attack in Tel Aviv is the direct result of the poisonous incitement being disseminated by the Palestinian Authority against the Jews and their state," Netanyahu said Wednesday. "This same terrorism is trying to attack us in Paris, Brussels and everywhere."
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, condemned the violence but said it came as a result of the Israeli occupation.
"You cannot have a violent military occupation with full impunity and then expect all its victims to be calm and quiet," she said.
Most of the recent violence has occurred in Jerusalem, though there have been other attacks in Tel Aviv and the West Bank.
In Jerusalem, the violence came after months of tensions between Jews and Palestinians in east Jerusalem — the section of the city the Palestinians demand as their future capital. The area saw a wave of violence last summer, capped by a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.
Much of the recent unrest has stemmed from tensions surrounding a key holy site in Jerusalem's Old City. It is the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount because of the revered 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.
Associated Press writers Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Karin Laub in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.