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Palestinian suspect killed after stabbing in central Israel

JERUSALEM (AP) — A Palestinian man was shot dead Thursday by an off-duty police officer after stabbing a pair of Israeli motorists at an intersection in central Israel, Israeli officials and media said.

The incident came at a time of heightened violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel has been conducting nightly military incursions into the occupied West Bank following a series of deadly attacks inside Israel last spring.

Thursday’s incident occurred near the Israeli town of Modiin on a major highway that runs through the West Bank just a few kilometers (miles) away.

Israeli police and rescuers said the attacker approached several vehicles, sprayed tear gas at people and tried to open car doors. The MADA rescue service said two people suffered minor hand injuries, while five people were injured by pepper spray and the off-duty police officer suffered minor facial injuries.

There was no way to independently verify the account.

Lone Palestinians have carried out dozens of stabbings and car ramming attacks in recent years. But Palestinians and human rights groups say Israeli security forces often use excessive force.

Earlier Thursday, the Palestinian militant group Hamas threatened hostile action against Israel for what it called “violations against Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque” ahead of the upcoming Jewish High Holidays.

Hamas’s threats came just before the Jewish New Year on Sunday, and a day after a group of Jewish religious extremists visited a disputed holy site revered by both Jews and Muslims and blew the shofar, a ram’s horn it is blown with the trumpet before and during the Jewish High Holidays.

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, begins at sunset on Sunday and thousands of Israelis are expected to visit Jerusalem in the coming weeks.

Omer Barlev, Israel’s minister in charge of police, told Kan public radio on Wednesday that Israeli authorities will not limit Jewish visits to the disputed Jerusalem holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex.

Visits and prayers by hardline Jewish radicals at the site have triggered previous rounds of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

To Jews, the site is the holiest on earth, the location of two ancient temples. For Muslims, it is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the third holiest place after Mecca and Medina. The shrine is the emotional epicenter of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Officially, under a loose set of rules known as the “status quo,” Jews can visit but not pray at the site, which is run by a Jordanian-run trust. But in recent years, the number of Jewish visitors to the site has grown steadily, with some holding Jewish prayers at the site under police protection.

Addressing reporters in Gaza City, Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar denounced what he called a “blatant attack on the religious and Islamic status of the city and the mosque,” saying Israel bore full responsibility. for “the possibility of dragging the entire region into an open religious war.”

He said the militant group, which rules the Gaza Strip, would “defend the rights and sanctity of our people by all possible means.”

Israel and Hamas have fought four wars in the Gaza Strip since the Islamist militant group seized power in 2007.

The most recent battle, in May 2021, began when Hamas fired rockets into Jerusalem as Israeli nationalists planned to march through Jerusalem’s historic Old City, which is home to sites holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, along with the Old City and its holy sites, in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it in a move not recognized by most of the international community. Palestinians seek it as the capital of a future independent state.

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