JERUSALEM (CBSDC/AP) — A Palestinian man stabbed nine people on a bus in central Tel Aviv on Wednesday, wounding four of them seriously before he was chased down, shot and arrested by Israeli police in an attack praised by the Islamic militant Hamas group as “heroic.”
The assault, described by police as a “terror attack,” was the latest in a spate of attacks in which Palestinians have used knives, acid and vehicles as weapons in recent months, leaving dead and injured. Police identified the assailant as a Palestinian from the West Bank and said he had entered Israel illegally.
The man, who was on the bus himself, traveling with the other passengers, began stabbing people, including the driver, then managed to get out of the bus and started fleeing the scene.
Officers from a prison service who happened to be nearby and saw the bus swerving out of control and a man running away, gave chase, shot the man in the leg, wounding him lightly and subsequently arrested him.
“We believe it was a terror attack,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. He said four people were seriously hurt and another nine sustained lighter wounds. The stabber was in custody and the police are questioning him now, he said.
The stabbing follows the type of “lone-wolf” Palestinian attacks that have plagued Israel in recent months, killing about a dozen people, including five people killed with guns and meat cleavers in a bloody assault on a Jerusalem synagogue.
Cheli Shushan said her uncle, Herzl Biton, the bus driver, was stabbed in the upper body and liver and was in surgery. 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, asking him if “something happens to me, please take care of my children.”
Israeli television footage of the attack showed a Jewish head covering lying on the floor of the bus, with blood pooling around it.
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 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders.
Most of the 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 experienced unrest and near-daily attacks by Palestinians following 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.
The attack comes as House Speaker John Boehner invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress next month.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu is a great friend of our country, and this invitation carries with it our unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of his people,” Boehner said in a statement. “In this time of challenge, I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life. Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again.”
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)