JERUSALEM — Three Palestinian men armed with automatic rifles, knives and pipe bombs attacked Israeli border police officers in East Jerusalem on Wednesday, killing one officer and wounding another. The three assailants were fatally shot by officers at the scene.
The assault was the latest in a four-month wave of Palestinian attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians. Israeli officials said the officers were attacked after they became suspicious and approached two of the men, asking to see their identity cards. Those two men began to stab and shoot at the officers, the police said, and a third assailant fired at the police from behind.
The two police officers who were injured were both female. One — Hadar Cohen, 19 — died of her wounds a few hours later at a hospital.
The attack took place in a predominantly Palestinian area of East Jerusalem, near the Damascus Gate of the Old City. It was not immediately clear where the assailants were going when the officers approached them.
Officials said that the officers had apparently headed off what could have been a much deadlier attack. The pipe bombs the assailants were carrying did not go off at the scene; they were detonated harmlessly later by bomb disposal experts.
Palestinians using knives, guns and vehicles as weapons have killed at least 27 Israelis since Oct. 1. More than 155 Palestinians have been killed in the same period, according to the Israeli authorities, who said most were assailants and others were killed in clashes with Israeli forces. On Sunday a Palestinian police officer shot three Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint before being killed by soldiers.
Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, a senior Israeli military commander who briefed reporters on Wednesday before the attack, said that the recent surge in violence was not likely to end soon and that the army assumed it would continue throughout 2016.
According to the police, the three assailants on Wednesday were all around 20 or 21 and came from Qabatiya, a village in the northern West Bank. Palestinian news media reports identified them as Ahmad Zakarna, Muhammad Kamil and Ahmad Abu al-Rub.
Mr. Zakarna had made his intentions clear in a Facebook post more than a month ago. “We are writing with his precious blood, and in the name of freedom,” he wrote, referring to a childhood friend from Qabatiya who was fatally shot by Israeli forces in November after he tried to stab a soldier at another West Bank checkpoint, the Israeli military said.
“Your men are coming with gunfire,” Mr. Zakarna wrote in his post. “May you rest in peace in heaven and may God grant us the privilege of becoming martyrs.”
Ali Zakarna, a cousin of Mr. Zakarna and a spokesman for Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian party, in Qabatiya, said the three Palestinian assailants in Wednesday’s attack were good friends of the man who was fatally shot in November. “Our children’s actions are only a reaction to the continuous harsh Israeli occupation,” Mr. Zakarna said. “The shooting and killing of their friend,” he continued, “encouraged these youths to seek revenge against the enemy.”
Local officials said the Israeli military had surrounded Qabatiya and was not allowing anyone to enter or leave.
General Alon, who heads the military’s operations directorate, said “the footprints of Hamas,” the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, could be seen in efforts to encourage terrorism, even though most of the assailants were “lone wolves,” acting without the assistance of any organization.
In a statement on Wednesday, Hamas praised the attack but did not claim responsibility for it.
General Alon said that the army was not taking measures like sealing off the West Bank or stopping Palestinians from working in Israel because it was important to keep the Palestinian economy functioning. Distinguishing between assailants and innocent civilians is “a very important part of counterterrorism,” he said.
In the briefing, the general also spoke about Israel’s regional security concerns. He said that the international accord reached last year to limit Iran’s nuclear program was “not the best accord,” but that it had made the nuclear threat from Iran “less urgent” for Israel. He added that the removal of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium “has delayed the ability of Iran to build a bomb.”
Deal or no deal, he said, the “strategic challenges to Israel mainly come from Iran,” including Iran’s support for militias like Hezbollah and Hamas and the country’s continued development of longer-range missiles.
Still, General Alon said, the Israeli military believes that Iran will have little interest in violating the nuclear accord in the next three to five years. Low oil prices make it “essential for Iran,” he said, to reap the financial “fruits” of the accord instead.
Rami Nazzal contributed reporting from Ramallah, West Bank.
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(via NY Times)