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2 drivers plow into Israelis as tensions rise in Jerusalem

Palestinians clashed with police at a refugee camp after a Palestinian camp resident was identified as the driver of a vehicle that slammed into a crowd on Wednesday.
Palestinians clashed with police at a refugee camp after a Palestinian camp resident was identified as the driver of a vehicle that slammed into a crowd on Wednesday. Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

JERUSALEM — Amid heightened tensions over an important holy site, two drivers, in separate incidents, plowed their cars into Israelis on Wednesday, and Jordan recalled its ambassador from Israel.

Israeli police said at least one of the crashes, in which a Palestinian drove into pedestrians in Jerusalem, killing one and injuring a dozen, was “a terrorist attack.” In the second incident, in the West Bank, a driver who has yet to be identified ran over three soldiers, injuring them in what the military suspected was another deliberate attack.

If it was, the crash would be the third such assault on pedestrians in recent weeks, raising fears of a possible new Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

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Israel has been struggling to manage a volatile situation both at home and with Jordan, a crucial ally, driven in good part by disagreements about the holy site in Jerusalem; Jordan is the official custodian there while Israel handles security. Friction has been rising in recent months as some Israelis have been pushing to be allowed to pray at the site, which is revered by Muslims and Jews.

In the vehicle attack in Jerusalem on Wednesday, an Israeli police spokesman said, the driver was shot dead by police officers at the scene after he got out of his vehicle and tried to attack officers and bystanders with an iron bar.

Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, identified the Israeli man who was killed as Jidaan Asad, 38, a border police officer from the Druse village of Beit Jann in northern Israel. Police said the attacker had connections with Hamas.

In the similar attack late last month, a Palestinian man, a resident of East Jerusalem, drove into pedestrians, killing a 3-month-old baby and a young woman from Ecuador.

The driver of the car that hit the soldiers escaped.

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Simmering tensions about the holy site — known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — boiled over last week when Israel closed it for one day for the first time in years, saying it feared violence.

The temporary closing came after an Israeli counterterrorism unit killed a Palestinian suspected in the assassination attempt of a prominent US-born Israeli activist. The activist, Yehuda Glick, has been at the forefront of the growing movement of nationalist Jews who are challenging the ban on Jewish prayer at the sacred compound.

The Jordanian news agency, Petra, said the ambassador was being recalled in protest against what it called “the unprecedented and escalated Israeli aggressions” at the holy site and “repeated violations in the holy city.”

Jordan’s foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, was to meet in Paris Wednesday with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the crisis over the holy site, according to Jordanian officials. Jordan said it would also file a complaint to the UN Security Council.

The events have set off clashes at the sacred plateau, which is revered by Jews as the place where ancient Jewish temples once stood, and by Muslims as the site of Al Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock.

The vehicle involved in the crash in Jerusalem.
The vehicle involved in the crash in Jerusalem.Ammar Awad/REUTERS

On Wednesday, Palestinians hurled rocks and firecrackers at the police from inside Al Aqsa Mosque, in an apparent effort to prevent Jewish visitors and tourists from entering the compound.

Police kept the rioters inside the mosque and later reopened the compound to visitors. Supporters of Glick, who was severely wounded in the assassination attempt, called for Jews to pray for his recovery at the holy site Wednesday.

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Israeli security officials identified the driver of Wednesday’s attack in Jerusalem as Ibrahim Akari, a married father of five and a low-level Hamas activist who had never been jailed by Israel. Akari’s brother, Musa Akari, was convicted of involvement in the capture and killing of an Israeli border policeman in the 1990s by a Hamas squad; he was released as part of a prisoner exchange in 2011 and deported to Turkey, according to the officials.

Leaders of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that dominates Gaza, praised the attack Wednesday in Jerusalem without taking responsibility for it.

“We send our congratulations to those who carried out the attack,” Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said in a phone interview. “We believe it is a natural reaction to Israel’s crimes. Israel is violating international law and Judaizing Al Aqsa mosque. We don’t have any other choice but to defend our holy land by all means of force.”

Israel has also accused the more moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank of inciting violence in Jerusalem after President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority recently called on Palestinians to defend their holy sites “by all means.”

Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994, but relations between the two countries have remained low profile and focused on security issues, and have suffered crises in the past.

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