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Video: Driver Attacks Pedestrians in East Jerusalem as Unrest Grows

Hamas claims operation and urges further assaults in defence of al-Aqsa Mosque, amid escalating violence surrounding holy sites.

by Sally Hayden and Hannah Strange
Nov 5 2014, 4:50pm

Image via Reuters

A Palestinian motorist rammed his car into a crowded train platform in East Jerusalem on Wednesday, an attack swiftly claimed by Hamas and denounced by Israeli authorities as an act of terrorism.

The incident came just hours after clashes between masked Palestinians and Israeli security forces at the al-Aqsa Mosque, which has been the scene of angry protests in recent weeks. Wednesday morning's demonstrations coincided with a commemoration by Israelis to mark a week since a Palestinian shot and injured American-Israeli activist and rabbi Yehuda Glick.

Around a dozen people were injured and the motorist — who has been named as Ibrahim al-Akri — was then shot and killed by police after leaving his vehicle. 

Micky Rosenfeld, Israeli police spokesperson, called the incident a "suspected terror attack."

Further violence was later reported in the restive Shuafat neighborhood of East Jerusalem, of which al-Akri was a resident, and in Beitar Illit, an Israeli settlement south of the disputed city.

Reports in the Israeli press suggested al-Akri was known to authorities as a Hamas operative. The organization was quick to praise the attack, hailing al-Akri as a "martyr" following his "heroic operation."

According to a statement translated by the Jerusalem Post, Hamas — which governs the Gaza Strip — called for further such actions by Palestinians in defence of the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites which sits within the Temple Mount revered by Jews. 

"We congratulate the activity carried out by Jerusalem's blessed heroes that targeted soldiers and security men," Hamas said, adding that Wednesday's incident was a "result of the crimes of the Zionists who continue to attack the worshippers and to violate the Palestinians' holy sites." 

"We call on the people of Jerusalem and the West Bank and all of the Palestinians to carry out more of these activities with full force in order to defend al-Aksa," the statement said.

A similar attack occurred two weeks ago, when a Palestinian motorist drove his car into a train station, killing an Ecuadorian woman, and a 3-month-old Israeli-American girl. In escalating tit-for-tat violence, a Palestinian teenager was reportedly kidnapped and beaten by three Israeli settlers in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem,

Jordan meanwhile recalled its ambassador to Israel, Walid Obeidat, claiming the country's authorities were exerting unnecessary control over Jerusalem's holy places.

Clashes follow shooting of radical right-wing rabbi in east Jerusalem. Read more here.

Palestinians and Israeli police have been clashing in the city almost daily over the past few months, with the level of casualties fluctuating. 

One of the key issues is access to areas of religious significance.

After last week's assassination attempt on Glick, the Israeli police began limiting Muslim access to the al-Asqa Mosque — first closing it to all Muslims, then banning all men under 50 from entering. Jews are currently allowed to visit the site, but not to pray there.

Its closure last week was described as "a declaration of war" by the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank governing body led by President Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Wednesday's motor attack was "a direct result of incitement" by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

A Jordan government official said that the country will be submitting a complaint to the UN Security Council over the closure. The kingdom has become increasingly outspoken about their unease at Israel's actions. In remarks on the threat of "Islamist extremism" last month, King Abdullah also mentioned the threat of "Zionist extremism." Last week marked the 20th anniversary of Jordan's peace treaty with Israel, which labels Jordan as a custodian of the mosque, but the tension between the two countries makes the treaty's future uncertain.

AFP quoted King Abdullah as saying on Sunday: "Jordan will continue to confront, through all available means, Israeli unilateral policies and measures in Jerusalem and preserve its Muslim and Christian holy sites, until peace is restored to the land of peace."

The latest attacks come on the same day that Amnesty International published a report accusing Israel of exhibiting "callous indifference" during their military campaign this summer, and stated that their targeted attacks on Palestinian civilians amounted to war crimes. The United Nations estimate that 2,191 Palestinians died during the 50-day conflict. Of these 1,523 were civilians, including 519 children.

Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Amnesty International, told VICE News that with respect to Jerusalem, the group was worried about "the potential for violence of all kinds. We are particularly concerned about excessive use of force from the Israeli forces against Palestinian demonstrators who are unarmed." Responding to the assaults by motorists, he said: "An attack by an armed group or someone related to them that is directly targeting civilians is a very clear abuse."

Luther also spoke of the Israeli government's response to their report, which he called "poor," and said "really doesn't respect the quality of the evidence."

Addressing Israel's assertion that its army is already investigating the named cases, he said: "It doesn't fill us with any confidence because essentially they're saying that the military has been investigating itself and does not feel that it needs to take these cases further. None have gone to judicial review."

Amnesty says Israel's attacks on civilians during Gaza offensive amounted to 'war crimes'. Read more here.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

Follow Hannah Strange on Twitter: @hannahkstrange