The three Palestinian assailants who opened fire at Border Police in the West Bank were believed to be headed toward Jerusalem to carry out an attack in the city already on edge after days of violence, Israeli television reported Friday.
According to Channel 13 news, the three attackers had registered for a tour that included Jerusalem and were apparently making their way to the Israeli capital at the time of the shootout, in which two of the gunmen were killed and the third critically injured.
Channel 12 said the gunmen hoped to capitalize on the recent tensions in Jerusalem and carry out an attack that would reverberate around the region much more than an attack elsewhere.
It noted that the bus they were on, which was illegally bringing Palestinians into Israel — some for work and some to visit Jerusalem for Ramadan — was also carrying women and children.
As the bus was being searched, the gunmen opened fire on the Israelis.
Officials and analysts praised the border guards on duty at the scene for their quick reactions after coming under fire from short range. They singled out Sergeant S. a 20-year-old female squad commander who was in charge of the Israeli forces.
Sergeant S. a resident of a Moshav in southern Israel, said she and her soldiers identified three armed suspects running towards them, and opening fire.
“We cocked our weapons and took cover as we responded with gunfire. During the gunbattle we heard bullets whizzing over our heads, she said, adding that she “hopes this will be the last event like this.”
Despite the three attackers emerging from the bus and opening fire from just a few meters away, there were no Israeli casualties and all three assailants were hit.
“A major attack was prevented thanks to the sharp, determined and professional combat efforts of the border police officers,” said the head of the IDF’s Central Command Tamir Yadai, during a visit to the scene.
Yadai said forces had been on high alert and reinforced during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“According to our assessment, you managed to prevent the terrorists from carrying out an attack inside Israel,” Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai told the officers at the scene.
Channel 13, which did not cite a source, said the Palestinians acquired the makeshift Carlo-style submachine guns they used in the last several days.
The Israel Defense Forces, meanwhile, announced it was sending further 4 battalions of troops to the West Bank following the shooting attack, the second in less than a week.
The military also said Israeli forces were operating in the northern West Bank village of Shuweika, were two of the attackers were from. The third was from the city of Tulkarem.
לוחמי צה״ל ומג"ב פעלו היום בכפר שוויכה שבמרחב החטיבה המרחבית ״מנשה״ ממנו יצאו חלק מחוליית המחבלים שהיו מעורבים בניסיון פיגוע הירי שסוכל על ידי כוחות הביטחון היום במוצב סאלם pic.twitter.com/x66yXadMB6
— צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) May 7, 2021
Earlier, IDF and police officials said the assailants had initially planned to commit a “major attack” against civilians in central Israel.
The three attackers, all in their early 20s, were traveling on a bus with illegal Palestinian laborers en route to central Israel, and intended to commit the shooting there, a security official said.
Forces had halted the bus near the border crossing between Israel and the West Bank as part of routine security efforts to stop illegal laborers from entering Israel. Shortly after, the three Palestinians got off the bus and opened fire at the soldiers.
A security official told Army Radio that forces had foiled “a Sarona 2,” a reference to the June 2016 terrorist attack where gunmen opened fire on the upscale Sarona market and restaurant area in Tel Aviv, killing four people.
As the three were about to be searched, they opened fire.
“The terrorists fired at the gate of the base. Border Police officers and an IDF soldier responded by firing and neutralizing the three terrorists,” police said in a statement.
The official said there was no prior intelligence that the three planned an attack and they did not have a history of involvement in terror groups. Initial investigations indicated that the bus driver was unaware of their intentions.
Aside from the guns each assailant used, knives were found on each of their bodies.
The attack came amid rising tensions in Jerusalem, the West Bank and along the Gaza border. Police bolstered their presence in Jerusalem on Friday ahead of prayers to mark the final weekend of Ramadan.
It also came a day after the funeral of Yehuda Guetta, a 19-year-old student who was shot in the head in a drive-by shooting attack at Tapuah junction in the West Bank earlier this week, and who died of his injuries on Wednesday night.
Additionally, tensions are high in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah where there have been ongoing protests over the last week as dozens of Palestinians are at risk of being evicted following a long legal battle with right-wing Jewish Israelis trying to acquire property in the neighborhood, just north of Jerusalem’s Old City.
The clashes have raised fears of sparking a wider conflict with the Hamas terror group and other armed factions in Gaza, warning of renewed violence over the issue.