Two fatal attacks in Tel Aviv and the West Bank have reportedly killed at least four Israelis and a Palestinian, making Thursday the deadliest single day of violence against Israelis since a wave of stabbing, shooting, and vehicle attacks began in October.
The first two deaths occurred in southern Tel Aviv on Ben Tzvi Road near the Panorama Building during the early afternoon when a Palestinian man went on a rampage with a knife.
"Everybody started running. We ran upstairs, we saw a man lying on the ground bleeding, it was a place where people pray in," said Paz Karni, an eyewitness to the assault. "In the middle of the noon prayer someone got inside, stabbed him, the second one didn't make it inside and was stabbed in his throat, that's the one who was wounded and died."
Israeli paramedic Assid Velariskya said that there were "multiple wounded from a stabbing event." According to local media reports, the attacker was initially apprehended by a passer-by and then handed over to a traffic policeman in the storeroom of a nearby shoe store.
A police spokeswoman confirmed that the assailant was now in Israeli custody and had been apprehended after attacking worshippers who gathered for afternoon prayers in a shop that sells Jewish religious items in the building.
An eyewitness interviewed on local television said one of the stabbing victims staggered into an afternoon prayer service prompting worshippers to hold the close the doors as the attacker tried to enter.
According to local media outlets the assailant, identified as a 36-year-old man from the Hebron area of the West Bank, received a permit to enter Israel around a month ago and had been working at a local at a restaurant. In recent weeks Hebron, the only city in West Bank with an Israeli settlement inside, has become the epicenter of violence with a string of attacks carried out in the area.
Following the killings, Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, issued a statement commending the attack as "act of bravery" and calling the victims "Zionist settlers."
Just hours after the Tel Aviv attack, at around 4.35pm, a second attack was reportedly carried out by a motorist who opened fire toward on a minibus and cars at Alon Shvut Junction, near Gush Etzion a cluster of Jewish settlements south of Jerusalem. The driver then rammed his car into nearby pedestrians.
Three people were reportedly killed in the assault, and at least 10 more injured. The dead from the Gush Etzion attack are reported to be a 18 year-old tourist from the US, an Israeli man in his 50s, and a Palestinian sitting in a passenger seat.
The two attacks on Thursday bring the number of Israelis killed to 18 since October 1. On the other side at least 79 Palestinians have been killed, including 48 alleged attackers, and 31 killed in clashes with Israeli security forces during protests in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
Prior to Thursday the most deadly day of violence for Israelis was October 13 when three people were killed in two attacks by Palestinian assailants, one gun and knife attack on bus 78 in Jerusalem, and a second machete attack on a bus stop. A fourth victim, bus passenger Richard Lakin, also later succumbed to his wounds in hospital two weeks later.
The recent spate of violence and unrest has centered on allegations that Israel is trying to change the status quo at a contentious religious site in Jerusalem known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and Jews as Temple Mount. Non-Muslim prayer is currently banned at the compound but an increasing number of visits to the site by ultra-nationalist Jewish visitors and calls by hardline Israeli politicians to build a Third Temple have fueled anger among Palestinians.
Earlier on Thursday, three Palestinian women attempted to infiltrate an Israeli military post in the West Bank. According to the Israel Defense Forces the trio were apprehended with knives in their possession.
Reuters contributed to this report