x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Jerusalem bulldozer attack kills three

A Palestinian drives a bulldozer into an Israeli commuter bus, cars and pedestrians on a busy Jerusalem street.

Israeli police gather around a bulldozer that was used in a deadly attack in Jerusalem, today.
Israeli police gather around a bulldozer that was used in a deadly attack in Jerusalem, today.

JERUSALEM // A Palestinian rammed a bulldozer into an Israeli bus in the middle of a crowded street in West Jerusalem today, killing three and wounding dozens. The incident, which the Israeli police said was politically motivated, occurred about noon. The driver of the bulldozer was shot dead by a police officer at the scene after he had rammed cars and overturned a public bus on Jaffa Street, a busy shopping and business area in the centre of Jerusalem. "We consider the attack a politically motivated one," said Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman. "But at this point in time we are treating it as an individual act." Mr Rosenfeld said the driver of the bulldozer was a 30-year-old Palestinian and came from a Jerusalem-area village. Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza City, said such incidents should be expected but did not believe it would affect the Gaza ceasefire agreement. "These incidents are the natural results of Israel's aggressions against Palestinians in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Palestinians cannot be expected to sit back and not react." Nasez Azzam, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad in Gaza, sounded a similar note. Two Islamic Jihad militants were killed in the West Bank town of Nablus on June 25, prompting the movement to respond by firing rockets across the Gaza-Israel border, almost derailing a tenuous ceasefire agreed two weeks ago. "I don't think this should affect the ceasefire, which Israel itself insisted was confined to the Gaza Strip," Mr Azzam said. "In light of the international silence on Israel's crimes in the West Bank and Gaza, it is only natural that Palestinians will act to defend themselves." Today's bulldozer rampage was the first violent incident in Jerusalem since March when a Palestinian from East Jerusalem entered a Jewish seminary and killed eight students. The attack appears also to have been an individual act.

Three organisations took responsibility for the attack, according to the Associated Press: the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, which has ties with the Fatah movement of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. The other two are the Galilee Freedom Battalion, which may be affiliated with Hizbollah in Lebanon, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a fringe left-wing militant group. None of the claims could be verified independently.

Friends of the man's family identified the attacker as Hussam Dwikat. They said he was 29 and that although he was a devout Muslim, he had no known ties to any militant groups. Police said the man driving the bulldozer, who was apparently working on a light rail project, carried an Israeli identity card, common for East Jerusalem residents, and had a criminal record, though it was not clear what for. Mr Rosenfeld said police considered his record a "minor issue". After the March attack, Israel took no military action, though right-wing Israelis went on a rampage in a predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood of Jerusalem chanting "death to the Arabs", throwing stones, vandalising cars and breaking windows. If today's incident is similarly determined to be an individual act, as Mr Rosenfeld said police were treating it, it is unlikely to have repercussions for the ceasefire in Gaza, or for Israeli military operations in the West Bank. A Palestinian population census conducted this year found that about 208,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, where they hold Israeli ID cards that technically should ensure them the same rights as Israeli citizens since that part of the city was unilaterally annexed by Israel in 1967. East Jerusalemites, however, frequently complain of discrimination against them by the Israeli authorities, citing poor road works and general infrastructure as well as a disproportionately high unemployment rate as examples that Israel is trying to put pressure on Palestinians in Jerusalem to force them out. @email:okarmi@thenational.ae