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Jerusalem van attack raises fears of more violence

Tia Goldenberg
Associated Press

Jerusalem — A Hamas militant slammed a minivan into a crowd waiting for a train Wednesday in Jerusalem, killing one person and wounding 13 in a midday attack that raised fears of worsening violence after months of simmering tensions in the holy city.

Hamas said the attack, the second of its kind in two weeks, was meant to protect the city’s most sensitive and sacred site — the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

It also injected new religious fervor into a wave of unrest fueled by failed peace efforts and stepped-up Jewish settlement construction in the eastern sector.

The violence spilled over to the West Bank later Wednesday when a Palestinian motorist drove into a group of soldiers, wounding three in a suspected attack, the Israeli military said. The forces were searching for the driver, who fled the scene.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the Jerusalem attack on incitement stemming from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and “his Hamas partners,” a reference to a unity government led by Abbas and backed by the Islamic militant group.

“We are in a prolonged battle in Jerusalem. I have no doubt we will win. We are deploying all the necessary forces to restore calm and security to all parts of the city but it may certainly be a prolonged struggle,” he said.

Israel has been trying for months to quell the unrest in east Jerusalem that began this summer but has surged over tensions surrounding the holy site. Earlier in the day, Israeli police had dispersed dozens of masked Palestinians who threw rocks and firecrackers near the site in the Old City ahead of a visit by a group of Jewish activists.

Neighboring Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel for consultations in a strong protest of the police raid at the site and filed a complaint to the U.N. Security Council. Under a longstanding arrangement with Israel, Jordan retains custodial rights over Muslim holy sites in the Old City, which includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the compound.

“We have sent repeated messages to Israel directly and indirectly that Jerusalem is a red line,” said Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, citing “continuous violations and incursions, and stopping people from worshipping freely and allowing extremists from coming in.” He spoke at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris, where Kerry said they discussed the tensions across Jerusalem.

Kerry condemned what he called “the terrorist attack in Jerusalem,” and added that “the confrontation at the Al-Aqsa Mosque is also of particular concern.”

“Holy sites should not become the sites of tension, and concrete steps need to be taken now by all sides to de-escalate this situation,” Kerry said, noting that the U.S. was in touch with both Jordan and Israel on the issue and hoped that “all parties will draw back and reduce these tensions.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the world body is “deeply concerned about the continued violence and tensions we’re seeing in Jerusalem,” adding that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the attack on pedestrians.

Dujarric said the continuing provocations and restrictions on access at the holy sites “need to be urgently deescalated.”

In a statement, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Abbas, also condemned the police actions at the holy site but made no mention of the car attack.

In a similar attack last month, a Palestinian rammed his vehicle into a crowded train stop on the same street in east Jerusalem, killing a 3-month-old Israeli-American girl and a 22-year-old Ecuadorean woman.

Days later, police shot and killed the suspected gunman behind a drive-by attack on Yehuda Glick, a Jewish activist who has pushed for greater Jewish access to the sacred hilltop compound. Glick remains hospitalized.

In Wednesday’s attack, police said the motorist drove the minivan into pedestrians waiting for the train at a stop. The driver backed out and drove away, hitting several cars along the way.

He then got out of the van and attacked civilians and police officers on the side of the road with a metal bar before he was shot and killed.

The train stop where Wednesday’s attack occurred is located along an unmarked line between west Jerusalem and the eastern sector captured in 1967.

Police identified the assailant as Ibrahim al-Akari, a 38-year-old Palestinian, and said he had recently been released from prison after serving time for security offenses.