On Thursday night, two assailants wielding axes murdered three Israelis and wounded several others in the city of Elad, located east of Tel Aviv.
According to an Israeli publication, two residents of the West Bank, As’ad Al-Rafa’ani, and Sabhi Abu Shakir were driven to Elad by one of the victims. After arriving, the pair murdered the driver and went on to commit further attacks in different areas of the city. Both attackers succeeded in escaping before law enforcement arrived.
Video published on social media after the assault showed security forces hunting for the perpetrators and deploying a Skylark 1 UAV to assist in the search.
Palestinian militant organizations published statements lauding the offensive saying it was a natural response to crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinian people and Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Fatah-linked Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades took their approval of the strike a step further by deploying its militants to the streets of Gaza to distribute sweets to citizens.
Conversely, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas published a statement condemning the attack, saying the killing of “Palestinians and Israeli civilians only leads to further deterioration of the situation at a time when we all strive to achieve stability and prevent escalation.”
The event in Elad comes less than one week after two Palestinians from the northern West Bank village of Qarawat Bani Hassan carried out a shooting assault against a security post in the settlement of Ariel that resulted in the murder of a security guard. Both suspects were captured the following day by Israeli security forces.
Additionally, Hamas’ so-called military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, claimed “full responsibility” for the Ariel offensive. Though the claim is dubious, and it is likely an effort to bolster the group’s image as it attempts to portray itself as the defender of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque during a time of renewed clashes in Israel.
In a highly publicized speech days before the Elad strike, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar encouraged further terrorism and instructed perpetrators to use knives, guns, cleavers and axes.
In light of Sinwar’s speech, it is difficult to ignore the connection between Hamas’ incitement and the murder of civilians by so-called lone-wolf attackers.
Sinwar’s speech can be interpreted as evidence of Hamas’ direct involvement in the current wave of terrorism. Its incitement to murder civilians has largely gone unpunished and the latest assault, coupled with public outcry, could be enough to convince the Israeli political echelon to confront Hamas.
The latest offensive also introduces a new factor that wasn’t prominent in the last six weeks: Israeli public anger. Repeated terrorist strikes inside major Israeli cities have left 18 dead.
Hamas has also picked up on the Israeli public’s anger. The Brigades’ spokesperson issued an emphatic statement on Saturday saying last year’s Gaza conflict would look like an “ordinary event” if Hamas leaders were targeted for assassination by Israel.
Israeli security services have yet to capture Rafa’ani and Shakir, though their remaining freedom can likely be measured in hours or at most several days.
Update: Both attackers were apprehended on Sunday by Israeli security forces in a forested area near Elad.
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