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Two assailants armed with a pistol and an ax attacked passers-by in the Israeli town of Elad. The attack came after a wave of violence by Arab attackers that had already killed 14 people in Israel since March.CreditCredit…Ammar Awad/Reuters

JERUSALEM – Two assailants, at least one armed with an axe, attacked passers-by in an Israeli city on Thursday evening, killing at least three, according to initial reports from eyewitnesses, police and emergency services.

Israeli authorities described the attack, which injured several other people, as a terrorist attack.

The attack followed a wave of violence by Arab attackers who had already killed 14 people in cities across Israel since late March, and came days after a Palestinian militant leader urged Arabs to “get your cleavers, axes or knives ready.” to make”.

Thursday’s attack also came after clashes between Palestinian stone throwers and Israeli police on the grounds of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in recent weeks. And it raised the specter that Israel had entered another period of protracted violence.

Despite concerns about another clash at the mosque on Thursday, Israel’s Independence Day, it was relatively quiet there, although Israeli police arrested a Palestinian protester. Nevertheless, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas made strong statements denouncing the police action.

On Saturday, Yehya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, had warned that further raids by Israeli police at the mosque complex would spark a response. In a fiery speech, he urged members of Israel’s Arab minority to “get your cleavers, axes or knives ready.”

Thursday’s attack took place in Elad, a predominantly ultra-Orthodox city in central Israel, just after nightfall.

Emergency services said they found the first fatality at a roundabout in Elad and two more in a nearby park.

“When we arrived, we realized this was a complex scene,” said Alon Rizkan, a paramedic with the Magen David Adom ambulance service. He described the three people who were pronounced dead at the scene as males, all of them around 40 years of age.

Several more injured men were taken to hospitals, and hospital officials said at least two were in critical condition with head injuries.

Hours later, police said they were still investigating the circumstances of the attack, including how many suspects were involved. Details remained vague: some witnesses reported seeing two assailants, both with an axe. Others said one was armed with an ax and the other with a knife.

The attackers appeared to have escaped. Police said they had set up checkpoints along several roads and officers were in a police helicopter looking for a vehicle seen on the run. Defense Secretary Benny Gantz said soldiers would assist in the hunt.

No one claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack, but it was hailed by a Hamas spokesperson as “a brave and heroic act” and “a natural response to the occupation’s violations against the blessed Al Aqsa mosque”.

The Aqsa Mosque complex is the holiest site in Jerusalem for Muslims and Jews alike, who revere it as the Temple Mount, site of two ancient Jewish temples.

At the urging of Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, protesters in the compound have tried to prevent visits by Israeli Jews during the hours set for non-Muslim visitors and tourists, and have thrown rocks and fireworks at security forces. Police have mainly acted to secure access to visitors, but police actions, including the use of sponge-covered bullets, sound grenades and tear gas to disperse rioters, have fueled anger among Palestinians.

Palestinians view the visits by ultra-nationalist Israelis to the compound, which have increased in recent years, as a provocation, and fear such visits are part of a gradual effort to undermine Muslim access to the site. Israeli authorities say there has been no change to long-standing arrangements at the site.

Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting from Nazareth, Israel, and Iyad Abuheweila from Gaza City.

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