Israeli government calls up reservists after car attack in Tel Aviv

AFP  /  April 8, 2023

Police to deploy extra battalions in city centres as Benjamin Netanyahu also directs army to mobilise additional forces.

Israel began calling up police and army reservists on Saturday after separate attacks killed three people, including an Italian tourist and two British-Israeli sisters, in Tel Aviv and the West Bank.

Despite appeals for restraint, violence has surged since Israeli police clashed with Palestinians inside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque on Wednesday, with Israel bombarding Gaza and Lebanon in response to rocket fire by Palestinian militants.

The Italian was killed and seven other tourists wounded when an Israeli Arab drove a car into pedestrians on the Tel Aviv seafront on Friday evening before being shot dead, police and emergency services said.

The Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, named the dead man as Alessandro Parini, 35. Police identified the driver as a 45-year-old from the Arab town of Kafr Kassem in central Israel. “The terrorist was neutralised,” a spokesperson said.

The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, said the attack was a “natural and legitimate response” to Israel’s “aggression” at al-Aqsa mosque.

Earlier on Friday, two British-Israeli sisters, 16 and 20, were killed and their mother seriously wounded when their car was fired on in the Jordan valley in the occupied West Bank. The Israel army said it had launched a hunt for the perpetrators.

After the Tel Aviv attack, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, instructed the police to “mobilise all reserve border police units” and directed the army to “mobilise additional forces”, his office said.

Police said four reserve battalions of border police would be deployed in city centres from Sunday, in addition to units already deployed in the Jerusalem region and in the central city of Lod, which has a mixed population of Jews and Arabs.

In the West Bank, Israeli troops came under fire in a drive-by shooting in the northern town of Yabad overnight, the army said on Saturday.

Friday’s attacks came after Israel launched airstrikes and an artillery bombardment before dawn in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.

It was the heaviest rocket fire from Lebanon since Israel fought a 34-day war with the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah in 2006 and the first time Israel has confirmed an attack on Lebanese territory since April last year.

Israel “struck targets, including terror infrastructures, belonging to the Hamas terrorist organisation in southern Lebanon”, the army said.

The Lebanese army said it had found and dismantled a multiple rocket launcher, still loaded with six primed rockets, in an olive grove in the Marjayoun area near the border.

The Israeli army said it had hit two tunnels and “two weapon manufacturing sites” in Gaza in response to the “security violations of Hamas”.

It said air defences had intercepted 25 rockets from Lebanon on Thursday, while five had hit Israeli territory. Israel “will not allow the Hamas terrorist organisation to operate from within Lebanon”, it said.

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil), which patrols the area along the border, urged restraint, noting: “Both sides have said they do not want a war.”

On Friday evening, the Israeli army said it had shot down a drone that had entered Israel’s airspace from Lebanon.

On Wednesday, Israeli riot police stormed the prayer hall of Al-Aqsa Mosque in a pre-dawn raid, aiming to dislodge “law-breaking youths and masked agitators” they said had barricaded themselves inside.

Israeli police raid Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, triggering cross-border strikes – video report:


Ramadan coincided with the Jewish Passover holiday this year, raising tensions with the tens of thousands of Palestinians who pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque during the Muslim fasting month.

The Palestinians fear that Netanyahu’s government may change longstanding rules that allow Jews to visit but not pray in the mosque compound, despite his repeated denials.

The upsurge of violence drew condemnation from the US and the European Union. “The targeting of innocent civilians of any nationality is unconscionable,” said the US state department spokesperson Vedant Patel, while the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said Brussels “expresses its total condemnation of these acts of violence”.

A Qatari official said Doha was mediating between Israel and the Palestinians. Qatar, which has acted as a broker in previous understandings between Israel and Hamas, “is working to deescalate the situation on all sides”, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.


Israel beefs up security for Jerusalem religious ceremonies

Josef Federman

The Independent  /  April 8, 2023

Israel’s defense minister has extended a closure barring entrance to Israel for Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip for the duration of the Jewish holiday of Passover, while police are preparing forces in Jerusalem on the eve of sensitive relgious celebrations.

Israel’s defense minister on Saturday extended a closure barring entrance to Israel for Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip for the duration of the Jewish holiday of Passover, while police beefed up forces in Jerusalem on the eve of sensitive religious celebrations.

The moves come after days of violence across the region at a time of heightened religious fervor – with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan coinciding with Passover and Easter celebrations. Jerusalem’s Old City, home to key Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, has been teeming with visitors and religious pilgrims from around the world.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that a closure imposed last Wednesday, on the eve of Passover, would remain in effect until the holiday ends on Wednesday night. The order prevents Palestinians from entering Israel for work or to pray in Jerusalem this week, though mass prayers were permitted at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday. Gallant also ordered the Israeli military to be prepared to assist Israeli police. The army later announced that it was deploying additional troops around Jerusalem and in the West Bank.

Over 2,000 police were expected to be deployed in Jerusalem on Sunday – when tens of thousands of Jews are expected to gather at the Western Wall for the special Passover priestly blessing. The Western Wall is the holiest site where Jews can pray and sits next to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, where large crowds gather each day for prayers during Ramadan.

Jerusalem police chief Doron Turgeman met with his commanders on Saturday for a security assessment. He accused the Hamas militant group, which rules the Gaza Strip, of trying to incite violence ahead of Sunday’s priestly blessing with false claims that Jews planned to storm the mosque.

“We will allow the freedom of worship and we will allow the arrival of Muslims to pray,” he said, adding that police “will act with determination and sensitivity” to ensure that all faiths can celebrate safely.

The current round of violence erupted earlier in the week after Israeli police raided the mosque, firing tear gas and stun grenades to disperse hundreds of Palestinians who had barricaded themselves inside.

Violent scenes from the raid sparked unrest in the contested capital and outrage across the Arab world. Palestinian militants fired rocket barrages from the Gaza Strip and in an unusual step, from southern Lebanon as well. Israel responded with airstrikes in both locations. Then on Friday, Palestinian assailants killed three people in a pair of attacks – in Tel Aviv and in the West Bank.

In Tel Aviv, people laid flowers and candles on Saturday next to photos of Alessandro Parini, an Italian tourist killed in the Friday night car ramming attack.

Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, spoke to his Italian counterpart, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, to express his condolences and later visited victims of the attack in a hospital with Italy’s ambassador to Israel.