Israel attack: manhunt launched after three killed in Elad

Attack comes at a time when Israeli-Palestinian tension has increased in recent weeks

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Israeli forces have launched a manhunt for the perpetrators of an attack that killed three people in the central city of Elad.

The latest incident of violence took place as the country marked its independence day. Witnesses said two assailants leapt from a car swinging axes at passers-by, leaving three dead and four wounded, before fleeing in the same vehicle.

Security personnel, backed by helicopters and drones, set up roadblocks as they searched for what police described as “one or two terrorists” who remain at large hours after the attack.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz announced measures to stop the attackers from “escaping and travelling” to the West Bank. No details on the alleged assailants have been released.

On Friday afternoon, Israel named the victims of the attack as Yonatan Habakuk, 40, Boaz Gol, 40, and Oren Ben-Yiftah, 35. Between them they had 16 children, a tweet from the state of Israel's official Twitter account said.

The Magen David Adom emergency response service, which confirmed the deaths, said four others were wounded in the incident, which came after a series of fatal attacks committed by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs in recent weeks.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said “we will get our hands on the terrorists … and ensure they pay the price”.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said “the joy of independence day had been interrupted in an instant”, as he condemned the “murderous attack in Elad”.

Mr Gantz announced that a closure of the West Bank, a measure in place to allow Israeli independence day celebrations to go ahead, would remain in force until Sunday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that the US “vehemently condemn(s) the terrorist attack in Israel today”.

“Our hearts are with the victims and the loved ones of those killed. May the memories of those who passed be a blessing,” he said.

Before Thursday's incident, a string of attacks had killed 15 people since March 22, including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians, in separate attacks inside Israel.

Two of the deadly attacks were carried out in the Tel Aviv area by Palestinians.

A total of 27 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs have died during the same period, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack. Mr Abbas warned it could lead to spiralling violence.

But the Gaza Strip's Islamist rulers Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian armed group, praised the latest violence, calling it a consequence of unrest at the Al Aqsa mosque. Neither claimed responsibility.

"This operation demonstrates our people's anger at the occupation's attacks on holy sites," Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said of the Elad attack.

"The storming of the Al Aqsa mosque cannot go unpunished."

Reports of knives or axes

Specific information on how Thursday's violence unfolded remains unclear but several Israeli media reports said the assailants carried knives or axes. Other reports suggested the attackers had used firearms.

Paramedic Alon Rizkan described it as a “complex scene”, identifying the dead as men in their early 40s.

The majority of Elad's 50,000 residents are members of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, known as haredim, hundreds of whom gathered after the attack, wearing crisp white shirts amid a swarm of medical personnel and police.

Meanwhile, Israeli police confronted Palestinian protesters at Al Aqsa Mosque compound on Thursday as Muslim worshippers opposed the return of Jewish visitors to the holy site in Jerusalem.

The resumption of tours within the grounds of the Old City site comes after a customary pause during the final days of Ramadan.

Israeli police fired rubber bullets at the compound and briefly entered the mosque, where worshippers had taken shelter.

Dozens of Palestinians gathered and chanted “God is greatest” as Jewish groups arrived at the site.

Israeli police said “rioters” threw rocks and other objects, slightly injuring one officer.

It is the latest incident after weeks of violence at Al Aqsa and elsewhere in occupied East Jerusalem.

Hamas accused Israeli authorities of “playing with fire” by allowing Jews to enter the site.

East Jerusalem and its ancient holy sites were captured by Israeli forces in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Updated: May 06, 2022, 3:11 PM