Israeli police say a Palestinian man has stabbed 13 people on and near a bus in central Tel Aviv, seriously wounding three of them before he was shot and arrested.

Police described Wednesday's assault as a "terrorist attack", and the Palestinian group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, praised it.

It appeared to be the latest in a series of "lone-wolf" attacks by Palestinians citing tensions surrounding al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City.

The man, who was riding the bus with the other passengers, began stabbing people, including the driver, then managed to get out of the bus and run away from the scene.

Officers from a prison service, 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 lightly, and arrested him.

Three of those stabbed remain in critical condition, according to Lee Gat, a spokesperson at Tel Hashomer hospital, and a statement from the Ichilov hospital.

Reporting from Jerusalem, Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh said: "There have been many attacks in recent months, but this one is significant because such an attack hasn't occurred in Tel Aviv since an Israeli soldier was stabbed to death in November."

Suspect identified

Video aired by Israel's Channel 10 TV showed the attacker running in the street and stabbing a woman as he tried to escape. Police confirmed that Matroukh stabbed a woman as he attempted to flee.

Police identified the assailant as Hamza Mohammed Matroukh, a 23-year-old Palestinian resident of the occupied West Bank who had entered Israel illegally.

Micky Rosenfeld, Israeli police spokesperson, said Matroukh was in custody and undergoing questioning.

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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 attacks in recent months carried out by individual Palestinians with no known ties to armed groups, which have killed about a dozen people, including five killed when two men attacked a Jerusalem synagogue with guns and meat cleavers.

Police sealed the central intersection where the attack occurred, which is typically clogged with cars, 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. She said he had tried to fight back and sprayed the attacker with pepper spray.

Biton called a friend as the attack was unfolding, describing the violence.

Hamas did not claim responsibility but praised Wednesday's attack as "brave and heroic" in a tweet by Izzat Risheq, a Hamas leader.

The stabbing is a "natural response to the occupation and its terrorist crimes against our people", Risheq said.

Wave of violence

Israeli officials say the attacks arise from incitement by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders.

"The terrorist attack in Tel Aviv is the direct result of the poisonous incitement being disseminated by the Palestinian Authority against the Jews and their state," Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, said on Wednesday.

Jerusalem has seen months of tensions between Jews and Palestinians in East Jerusalem - the section of the city the Palestinians demand as their future capital.

The area saw a wave of violence last summer, culminating in a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

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Much of the recent unrest has originated in tensions surrounding the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem's Old City which houses al-Aqsa Mosque.

Muslims refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and it is their third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

It is also the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount.

On Monday, thousands of Palestinians living inside Israel participated in the funeral procession of a Palestinian man with Israeli citizenship who died during a confrontation with Israeli police on Sunday night.

Local councils and grassroots committees have also called for nationwide general strikes.

Palestinian residents of the West Bank have also faced an escalation in attacks by Israeli settlers, including firebombings of local houses.

The violence comes in the run-up to March elections, in which Netanyahu is facing a challenge from a joint list headed by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who support negotiations with the Palestinians.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies