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At least four dead in Palestinian truck attack in Jerusalem

Israeli soldiers hug each other
Israeli soldiers hug each other near the scene where police said a Palestinian rammed his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers Jan. 8, 2017, on a popular promenade in Jerusalem, killing four people and injuring about 15 others in a deliberate attack. Photo by Gil Yohanan/REUTERS

JERUSALEM (Reuters) A Palestinian rammed his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers on a popular promenade in Jerusalem on Sunday (Jan. 8), killing four of them in an attack that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said is likely to have been inspired by Islamic State.

It was the deadliest Palestinian attack in Jerusalem in months and targeted officer cadets as they disembarked from a bus that brought them to the Armon Hanatziv promenade, which has a panoramic view of the walled Old City.

The military said that a female officer and three officer cadets were killed and that 17 others were injured. Police said three of the dead were women.

Police identified the truck driver as a Palestinian from Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem and said he was shot dead. His uncle, Abu Ali, named him as Fadi Ahmad Hamdan Qunbor, 28, a father of four from the Jabel Mukabar neighbourhood.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that nine Jabel Mukabar residents, including five members of the attacker’s family, were arrested on suspicion of aiding the attacker.

The Israeli military regularly takes soldiers on educational tours of Jerusalem, including the Armon Hanatziv vantage point.

Netanyahu visited the scene and convened his security cabinet, a forum of senior ministers, to discuss Israel’s response. He said that security forces were controlling access in and out of the neighbourhood.

“We know the identity of the attacker. According to all the signs he is a supporter of Islamic State,” the prime minister said.

A government source said that ministers had called for the demolition of the attacker’s home and for his body not to be returned to the family for burial. It also decided to detain without trial persons expressing sympathy for Islamic State.

The United States condemned the attack “in the strongest terms possible” and expressed condolences for the victims, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement that also reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s security.

Roni Alsheich, the national police chief, told reporters he could not rule out that the driver had been motivated by a truck ramming attack in a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people last month.

“It is difficult to get into the head of every individual to determine what prompted him, but there is no doubt that these things do have an effect,” Alsheich told reporters.

In another attack claimed by Islamic State and involving a truck driven into a crowd, nearly 90 people were killed in the French city of Nice in July.

Street attacks slowed

Actions inspired by Islamic State in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem have been rare and only a few dozen Arab Israelis and Palestinians are known to have declared their sympathy with the group.

A wave of Palestinian street attacks, including vehicle rammings, has largely slowed but not stopped completely since it began in October 2015, with 37 Israelis and two visiting Americans having been killed in these assaults.

At least 231 Palestinians have been killed in violence in Israel, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the same period. Israel says that at least 157 of them were assailants while others died during clashes and protests, blaming the violence on incitement by the Palestinian leadership.

The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, denies that allegation, and says assailants have acted out of frustration over Israeli occupation of land sought by Palestinians in peace talks that have stalled since 2014.

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, routinely praises those who carry out street attacks, and did so on Sunday.

“We bless this heroic operation resisting the Israeli occupation to force it to stop its crimes and violations against our people,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told Reuters.

Security camera footage showed the truck racing towards the soldiers and then reversing into them.

A security guard identified only as “A” told Channel 10 how he shot at the truck and its driver.

“I shot at a tyre but realised there was no point as he has many wheels, so I ran in front of the cabin and at an angle, I shot at him and emptied my magazine,” he said.

“When I finished shooting, some of the officer cadets also took aim and also started firing.”

The footage showed many of the soldiers fleeing the scene as the attack took place, their rifles slung on their shoulders.

As a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, the truck driver would carry an Israeli identity card and be able to move freely through all of the city. Israel considers all of Jerusalem its united capital, a stance not supported by the international community.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Maayan Lubell, Ori Lewis, Mustafa Abu Ghaneyeh and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza)

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  • I wonder what constitutes “suspicion’ with respect to the 9 individuals arrested in connection with the attack? In the case of the family members, let us hope the familial link was not the sole basis for their arrest. Further, I have never understood the destruction of real estate in these cases, as a 28 year old father of four his actions and the price paid for them should not include the loss of shelter for his children who must be quite young indeed and who could have had nothing to do with his act. Nor does denying his remains for burial accomplishing any practical or active useful purpose. I do not justify him, I simply reiterate the words of Jesus’ “Suffer the little children and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” These immediate sanctions directly imposed on his family in the aftermath will be likely to incline his children’s heart’s towards hardness and hatred of the Israeli government creating more potential terrorists in the end. “Whomever offends one of these little ones…it would be better if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were flung into the sea.”

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