An Italian tourist has been killed and several other people wounded after a car rammed into a crowd at a popular seaside park in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial hub.
Israeli police said a white car swerved off the road towards a pedestrian and bike path before flipping over, and they shot the driver after he reached for a weapon.
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The exact nature of the attack was not immediately clear but Israel’s foreign ministry referred to the incident as a “terror attack”, a term Israeli officials use for assaults by Palestinians.
An Israeli security source identified the suspect as an Israeli Arab from Kafr Qassem, near the border with the West Bank. He had no previous criminal record.
Israel’s rescue service said a 30-year-old man was killed. He was later identified as an Italian tourist. At least five other Italian and British citizens, including a 17-year-old teenager, were injured in the car attack, according to Israeli authorities.
Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said other Italians had been caught up in the attack.
“The Israeli authorities confirm the death of the Italian citizen Alessandro Parini and report the possible injury of other compatriots in the cowardly attack on #TelAviv,” Tajani wrote on Twitter. “I express my firm condemnation of terrorism and my closeness to families.”
The United States also condemned the attack.
“The targeting of innocent civilians of any nationality is unconscionable,” said State Department spokesman Vedant Patel. “The United States stands with the government and people of Israel.”
Security forces mobilised
Israel immediately mobilised police and army reserves following the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said, amid expectations the incident was likely to amplify calls for the right-wing Netanyahu to pursue an even tougher approach towards Palestinians.
“I think this does increase the pressure on the prime minister many folds,” she said, citing “hardliners” within the Netanyahu government “who have been preaching all along for much tougher stance when it comes with dealing with Palestinians”.
“The mayor of Tel Aviv has spoken with Israeli media and he actually said that all this is happening at this particular time because, in his words, the enemy is taking advantage of the weakness they see among Israeli society at the moment,” Abdel-Hamid added.
Netanyahu’s hard-right government is under pressure over its plans to curtail the authority of the Supreme Court and give politicians greater powers over the selection of judges, which triggered mass protests on the streets of Israel.
Earlier on Friday, two women were killed and a third seriously wounded in a shooting attack in the occupied West Bank.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack.
The escalation in tensions comes after Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem on successive days this week, firing stun grenades and attacking Palestinians as they gathered for Ramadan prayers.
Late on Thursday night, Israel launched air strikes on Palestinian targets in Lebanon and Gaza after rockets were fired from the two locations.
Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American–Islamic Relations, told Al Jazeera that the violence on Friday was “the result of decades of Israeli subjugation, humiliation and oppression of the Palestinians”.
He pointed to the frustration and anger following the Israeli military’s violent actions inside Al-Aqsa: “They kicked them out, they beat them, they handcuffed them and put cuffs on their legs and feet and threw them on the ground like sacks of meat.”
“So you will see that the Palestinians will react in defending themselves by all means possible.”
Nearly 90 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the occupied West Bank since the start of the year. During that time, 16 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.