Israel Restricts Palestinian Movement After Tel Aviv Attack
Israel has revoked 83,000 permits for Palestinians in the West Bank, barring them from entering the country during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It has also frozen work permits for more than 200 relatives of the two Palestinian gunmen who attacked a trendy mall late Wednesday in Tel Aviv.
Surveillance video shows the gunmen were disguised as businessmen wearing coats and ties. Eyewitnesses say the Palestinians were sitting at a restaurant when they pulled guns out of their bags and started shooting people. Terrified patrons took cover under tables and behind counters while others ran outside in panic.
The gunmen fled, but they were quickly tracked down by police and apprehended. One of them was shot and seriously wounded.
“This is a savage crime of murder and terrorism in the heart of Tel Aviv,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the scene of the attack in the Sarona Market, a popular area of boutique restaurants and shops.
“It is done by criminal terrorists who do not value human life, who are willing to murder innocent citizens who were sitting in a coffee shop… We are going to take the necessary steps to attack the attackers and to defend those who need to be defended.”
More troops to West Bank
The army says it is sending hundreds of troop reinforcements to the West Bank with the deployment of an additional two battalions. Israeli forces have sealed off the village of Yatta, near the biblical West Bank town of Hebron, from where the gunmen came; and troops are conducting arrest raids in search of accomplices.
Palestinians describe the Israeli measures as collective punishment, especially since the restrictions on movement prevent them from praying at the Mosque of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site, during Ramadan.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Islamic militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip praised the attack. Hamas, which is committed to armed struggle against Israel, called the shootings a “heroic operation” and promised the “Zionists” more “surprises” during Ramadan.
The Hamas reaction drew an angry response abroad. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed shock that Hamas leaders “chose to welcome this attack.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a statement condemning the “horrific terrorist attack,” saying “cowardly attacks against innocent civilians can never be justified.”
Internationally-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls Arab cities in the West Bank, condemned the attack on Israeli civilians. But that is unlikely to appease Israel, which accuses his government of inciting a nine-month wave of terror. The Palestinian Authority and Israel have been at loggerheads since U.S.-mediated peace talks broke down two years ago, resulting in a political vacuum that is fertile ground for violence.
Unrest erupted last September, with almost daily Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis, as well as periodic shootings and the ramming of cars into pedestrians. Some Palestinians dubbed it the “Intifada [Uprising] of the Knives.”
But the attacks have abated during the past couple of months, and the latest shooting could be an attempt by Palestinian militants to prevent their uprising from fizzling. A high-profile attack at a high-profile location shakes the sense of security among Israelis and could inspire other Palestinians to follow suit.
Israel’s Shin Bet security service believes there are many more Palestinian terror cells operating in the West Bank, and they could see Ramadan as an opportunity to strike soft targets like Tel Aviv, so police have beefed up security at crowded public places, such as malls and bus stations.
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