Israel hunts Palestinians after three killed in ax attack

Palestinian protesters burn tires during clashes with Israeli security forces following a demonstration against Israel’s expropriation of land, in the village of Kfar Qaddum near the Jewish settlement of Kedumim, in the occupied West Bank May 6, 2022

Israel conducted a large-scale manhunt on Friday for a pair of Palestinians suspected of killing three Israelis in an ax attack as the Jewish state marked its founding.

The deadly attack on Thursday night in Elad, a central city mainly populated by ultra-Orthodox Jews, was the sixth in which Israelis have been targeted since March 22.

The attack followed a tense period in which the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, the Jewish festival of Passover and the Christian holiday of Easter overlapped.

Palestinians have been angered by an uptick in Jewish visits to the Al-Aqsa compound, where by longstanding convention Jews may visit but are not allowed to pray.

The United States and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack. Abbas warned it could lead to spiraling violence.

“This operation demonstrates our people’s anger at the occupation’s attacks on holy sites,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said of the Elad attack.

– ‘Pay the price’ –

As helicopters and drones patrolled overhead in search of the perpetrators, young ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in crisp white shirts were seen linking arms and chanting near the scene of the murders.

A 31-year-old IT worker who gave his name as Yehuda told AFP he was afraid that “the killers have not yet been caught.”

Police asked the public to provide information on the suspects after publishing their pictures and names. They were described as residents of the village of Rummanah near Jenin in the occupied West Bank.

A police statement late Friday said “intensive searches” were ongoing “in cooperation with special operational forces”, including army units.

The majority of Elad’s 50,000 residents are members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, known as Haredim.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said 38 Palestinians were wounded Friday in clashes with Israeli forces near Nablus in the West Bank, including two teenagers who were shot with rubber-coated bullets.

A string of anti-Israeli attacks since March 22 have killed 18 people, including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians.

A total of 27 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs have died during the same period, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations.

For Palestinians, the anniversary of Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence marks the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, when more than 700,000 fled or were expelled during the war surrounding Israel’s creation.

“Whoever has a rifle must have it ready, and whoever does not have a rifle must prepare their knife or their axe,” said Yahya Sinwar, Hamas chief in the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip.

Neighboring Jordan on Friday condemned “all forms of violence against civilians”, warning that “everyone will pay the price for the current escalation”.

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