Three people were killed and several others seriously hurt in a terror attack in the central Israeli city of Elad on Thursday, medics said.
The attack came at the end of Israel’s Independence Day, and followed a wave of terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank in recent weeks, and repeated threats by Palestinian terror groups over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
According to eyewitnesses, two terrorists attacked several people with an axe and a knife at a central park and a nearby road in the largely ultra-Orthodox city. At least one of the wounded was in critical condition, and up to seven were hurt in the attack.
“There are two unconscious people here,” a man could be heard screaming in a phone call with the United Hatzalah emergency service. “There is so much blood… these are wounds from an axe,” the man said in the call.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service reported the three fatalities. The victims were not immediately identified.
MDA paramedics also reported another person was lightly wounded “during a fight with the terrorists.”
Police confirmed that the incident was a terror attack. It took place minutes after Independence Day events had concluded, in the park crowded with Israelis celebrating the holiday.
Two victims, one in critical condition and another seriously hurt, arrived at Beilinson hospital in Petah Tikva with head wounds. A third victim in serious condition was rushed to the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan.
Dr. Tzion Zibli, head of neurosurgery at Sheba, said the victim in his 20s was fighting for his life, had a “severe head injury” and was en route to surgery.
Police initially said witnesses told them one of the attackers used a firearm and the other had an axe or a large knife. But MDA said the injuries did not appear to be from gunfire, but from a “sharp implement.” Medics described the attack as a “very difficult event.”
“A 40-year-old man was lying next to a car on Ibn Gabirol Street with many stab wounds to his body; at this stage we realised he was dead,” MDA medic Alon Rizkan said.
“I continued down the stairs toward the park, and found two more unconscious victims lying several meters from each other. Both of them were declared dead,” Rizkan added.
“In the park we saw a 75-year-old man lying on the ground, semiconscious, with severe injuries to his upper body. He could not speak and responded with gestures,” MDA medic Idit levy said.
“It was a very difficult sight, people were sprawled on the road and on the sidewalk from the square to the park, and cries for help were heard from every corner,” Zaka volunteer Aaron Zilberman said.
“We were in the synagogue when the gabai (warden) shouted, ‘Terrorist, terrorist,’” an eyewitness named Mordechai Chachmon told reporters at the scene.
“We went outside and we saw [one of the terrorists] running along a path… and hitting anyone in front of him with an axe to the head. Both of [the terrorists] were shouting Allahu Akbar [God is greatest].”
Chachmon said a security guard fired at the terrorists, but missed.
Police launched a manhunt for the two suspects and blocked off several roads in the area. In a statement, a police spokesperson said a helicopter was being used to search for a vehicle that had fled the scene.
The terrorists were not immediately identified, but police officials said their “working hypothesis” was that they were Palestinians from the West Bank. Elad is located a short distance to the west of the West Bank security barrier, which has been frequently breached by terrorists carrying out attacks.
Local authorities ordered residents of Elad to remain in their homes amid fears the pair may attack again.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Israel Defence Forces chief Aviv Kohavi held a situational assessment following the attack, Gantz’s office said. Public Security Minister Omer Barlev and police chief Kobi Shabtai also held an assessment at the scene with law enforcement officials.
In the wake of the attack, Israeli security officials extended until Sunday the closure of the West Bank and Gaza — which was put in place on Tuesday afternoon, ahead of Memorial Day and Independence Day, and had been supposed to end overnight Thursday-Friday.
Palestinian terror groups praised the attack, although none immediately took responsibility.
The Hamas terror group called the attack “a heroic operation” in response to Jewish Israelis visiting the Temple Mount holy site earlier Thursday. Hundreds visited the flashpoint hilltop, which is Judaism’s holiest site and Islam’s third-holiest, in the first time since Passover. The site was closed to Jewish visitors for the end of Ramadan.
Earlier Thursday, Palestinians clashed with police on the Temple Mount after the site was reopened for Jews after the two-week closure. Hamas had threatened to retaliate if Jewish visitors were allowed to “storm” the holy site.
“Our people will continue their struggle and their defence of the Al-Aqsa Mosque with every means. Their blows will strike the Zionists and the settlers wherever they are,” said Hamas spokesperson Abd al-Latif al-Qanou.
In a speech last Saturday, Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar threatened violent consequences should Israelis continue visiting the site. He also called on West Bank Palestinians to commit individual attacks against Israelis.
“This is the practical implementation of what the resistance warned: Al-Aqsa is a red line,” Hamas official Hazem Qasim said.
Islamic Jihad also praised the Elad attack as a “heroic operation.”
“For settler gangs to defile Al-Aqsa — this crosses red lines,” senior terror group member Mohammad Hmeid said.
The attack came as tensions have risen sharply between Israel and the Palestinians in recent weeks, against the backdrop of repeated terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank that left 16 others dead.
Thursday’s attack brought the number of people killed in terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank since March 21 this year, to 19.
The army has stepped up its West Bank activities in an attempt to crack down on the spiralling violence. The ensuing raids sparked clashes that left at least 26 Palestinians dead. Many of those took part in the clashes, while others appeared to have been civilians.
In an unusual move, Hamas’s military wing claimed a shooting attack in the West Bank settlement of Ariel on Friday that left an Israeli security guard dead.
The “heroic” attack “will not be the last one, with God’s help,” the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades said.
TIMES OF ISRAEL