A PALESTINIAN man stabbed 11 people on a bus in central Tel Aviv yesterday, seriously wounding three of them before he was chased down, shot and arrested by Israeli police.
The assault, praised by the Islamic militant Hamas group and described by police as a “terror attack,” was the latest in a spate of recent attacks in which Palestinians have used knives, acid and vehicles as weapons to kill and injure people.
Police identified the assailant as a Palestinian from the West Bank and said he had entered Israel illegally.
The man, who was travelling on the bus with the other passengers, began stabbing people, including the driver, then managed to get off the bus and run away from the scene.
Prison service officers who happened to be nearby saw the bus swerving out of control and a man running away. They gave chase, shot the man in the leg, wounding him slightly, and arrested him.
“He had murder in his eyes,” a bus passenger who gave her name as Orly told Israel Radio.
Eleven people were stabbed and three remain in critical condition, according to Lee Gat, a spokeswoman at Tel Hashomer hospital, and a statement from the Ichilov hospital.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the attacker, identified as West Bank resident Hamza Mohammed Matroukh, 23, was in custody and undergoing questioning. Police said he confessed to the stabbing, saying he carried it out in response to last year’s Gaza war and tensions surrounding a Jerusalem site holy to Jews and Muslims.
The stabbing appeared to be the latest in a series 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.
The violence comes weeks ahead of March elections, in which Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk, is facing a challenge from a joint list headed by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who support negotiations with the Palestinians. The attack could sway votes in Mr Netanyahu’s favour.
At the scene of the attack, a Jewish head-covering lay beside headphones on the floor of the bus, with blood splattered nearby. Police sealed off the busy central intersection where the attack occurred as paramedics tended to the wounded.
Herzl Biton, the bus driver, was stabbed in the upper body and liver and was in surgery. His niece Cheli Shushan said he had tried to fight back and sprayed the attacker with pepper spray.
Mr Biton called his friend, Kazis Matzliach, as the attack was unfolding, describing the mayhem. Mr Matzliach said he could hear the sounds of screaming while his friend was talking, telling him if “something happens to me, please take care of my children”.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, did not claim responsibility but praised the attack as “brave and heroic” in a tweet by Izzat Risheq, a Hamas leader residing in Qatar.
The stabbing was a “natural response to the occupation and its terrorist crimes against our people”, Risheq said.
Israeli officials say the attacks stem from incitement by the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders.