The Hamas terror group on Thursday praised a deadly terror attack in Tel Aviv the previous evening and said it came in response to unspecified Israeli “violations” at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Israeli “violations” at the Mosque were responsible for the shooting attack at the Sarona Market in central Tel Aviv that left four Israelis dead and another 16 injured.
“The Tel Aviv operation is a natural response to Israeli desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the crimes against the Palestinian people,” he said in a statement, without specifying what the so-called violations and crimes were.
The attack came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, typically a time of increased religious tensions.
Before the attack, Israel had said it made special arrangements to allow for increased Muslim visits to the Temple Mount, including easing freedom of movement for some West Bank and Gaza Palestinians to reach the holy site.
Earlier attacks by Palestinians have been attributed to claims Israel intended to change the status quo on the Temple Mount plaza, where Jews are permitted to visit but not pray, though Israel has vociferously denied it intends to change the rules governing the site, which is revered by Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary. It is the holiest place in Judaism, the site of the two ancient Temples.
Hamas earlier said the two gunmen, whose identities were placed under gag order by Israeli police Thursday morning, were members of the group. The two were caught after fleeing the scene, one having been shot and seriously wounded by a security guard.
In an official statement on Twitter early on Thursday, Hamas praised the shooting as “heroic” and intimated that more attacks would follow over the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which started this week.
Abu Zuhri also threatened more attacks, and said the shooting was proof Israel had failed to tamp down on a wave of Palestinian violence that had seemed to subside in recent weeks.
“[The attack] is evidence that the intifada continues and the occupation has failed to suppress it,” he said.
A Hamas media outlet shared a photo of a traditional Palestinian Ramadan treat being stuffed with a bullet with the caption “Tel Aviv operation.”
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called the injured terrorist a “hero” and said he was praying for his soul. The Islamist terror group said the attack was “a message from children of the resistance to leaders of the occupation, especially [Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman],” who took office last week.
The spokesperson for Palestinian Islamic Jihad also threatened more attacks, saying that the “Jerusalem Intifada” will not end until “all of Palestine is restored.”
“He who bets on the decline of the Jerusalem Intifada is taking a losing bet. Our people will continue this intifada and defend its right until the defeat of the occupation and the restoration of all of Palestine,” spokesman Daud Shahab said.
The Fatah party headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement on its official Twitter feed saying Israel was “reaping the repercussions of choosing violence against the Palestinian people.”
Israel has consistently complained of Palestinian incitement such as praise for attacks as a leading cause for a wave of terrorism that gripped Israel from October to March. Thirty-three Israelis and four foreigners were killed in the violence, and some 200 Palestinian were also killed, some two-thirds of them while carrying out attacks and the rest in clashes with Israeli forces, according to Israel.
‘No justification for shooting people in the street’
In Israel, the head of the Joint (Arab) List party in the Knesset strongly condemned the attack, but also said Israel’s leadership was responsible for the violence.
“I painfully regret the terrible attack on citizens,” chairman of the Joint List faction Ayman Odeh said in a statement. “My heart goes out to the families. Attacking innocent people is always obscene. There is not and cannot be any justification to shooting people in the street.”
Odeh, however, blamed Israel’s leadership for fueling the violence.
“This government is leading all of us only to the depths of hatred and violence,” he said. “The general Israeli and Palestinian population should be excluded from the circle of horror and blood. Together we must campaign in a justified way to bring justice and peace to both peoples.”
President Reuven Rivlin in a statement called the attack “despicable” but said Israel would not be deterred from fighting terror.
“The struggle against terrorism is difficult and long, but the State of Israel will not be disheartened. There will be no resurgence of terror, and we will relentlessly pursue the perpetrators,” he said in a statement.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz called for severe action to be taken against the West Bank town of Yatta, where the two attackers reportedly hailed from.
“This is a vile murder that demands an extraordinary, strong, and painful Israeli response,” he said. “The village that the terrorists came from needs to have a preventative root canal, that will be remembered in its history, and it needs to be sealed off for a long time.”
IDF troops surrounded the town, south of Hebron, and security forces raided the home of one of the terrorists and interrogated the family. Israeli security agencies were working to determine how they entered Israel from the West Bank.
The Defense Ministry said it was freezing tens of thousands of permits given to Palestinians to travel to Israel during the Muslim Ramadan holy month as well as taking other punitive measures.
Katz also urged the advancement of a bill he sponsored to expel the families of terrorists.
“I am convinced that it will be an effective deterrent. If the terrorists knew that their extended families would be expelled, they would think twice before acting.”
The security cabinet was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting later Thursday to review Israeli responses to the attack.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited the site of the shooting on in the early hours of the morning, vowed “decisive action” to track down those responsible for the third deadly attack in Tel Aviv this year.