In Israel a surge in street attacks on civilians by Palestinian militants has resulted in 14 deaths in the past two weeks, raising tensions ahead of Ramadan, which starts this weekend. The festival last year saw clashes in Jerusalem that set off an 11-day Gaza war. The Israeli police has been put on the highest state of alert.
The most brutal of the attacks, on Tuesday, saw five killed in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish suburb of Tel Aviv. A 27-year-old from near Jenin in the occupied West Bank had opened fire with an automatic rifle on pedestrians and passing cars, claiming the lives of two Israeli civilians, two Ukrainians, and an Israeli-Arab police officer.
Yesterday Israeli soldiers shot dead two Palestinians during raids in Jenin looking for suspects for Tuesday’s attack and, in a separate incident, a Palestinian stabbed a 28-year-old Israeli man on a bus in the West Bank before being killed by a bystander.
The Bnei Brak killings were not claimed by any group and were condemned by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, who warned that "the killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians only leads the situation to deteriorate". But Hamas, the Islamist group that is the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip, praised the attack as a "heroic operation".
A spokesman for the group claimed the attack was a response to the summit held on Monday in the Negev Desert in southern Israel, in which four Arab foreign ministers, their Israeli counterpart and the US secretary of state gathered for the first time on Israeli soil for a meeting to co-ordinate their response to regional security threats including Iran.
The presence of the Arab states – the UAE, Egypt, Morocco, and Bahrain – has disappointed many Palestinians, who see the move as distancing the four from their cause and a betrayal.
The rare convergence of the often volatile holidays of Ramadan for Muslims, Passover for Jews, and Easter for Christians, and a series of sensitive anniversaries in the coming weeks, make for a potentially inflammatory and violent cocktail.