A teenage boy has died and 22 people have been injured in two blasts targeting rush-hour commuters in Jerusalem, attacks that hark back to the violence of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising.
The first explosion occurred shortly after 7am local time on Wednesday near a bus stop packed with civilians on the western outskirts of the divided city. The second blast, half an hour later near a busy junction in the Ramot settlement, north of Jerusalem, injured another five people. The child who died from his injuries in hospital was named as a dual Israeli-Canadian citizen, Aryeh Schupak, 15.
Three people were in serious condition, according to Israel’s rescue service, Magen David Adom. Yosef Haim Gabay, a medic who was at the bus stop, told Army Radio there was “damage everywhere” and that some of the wounded were bleeding heavily. Ambulance and police sirens blared across the city.
A police spokesperson, Eli Levi, said: “There has not been such a coordinated attack in Jerusalem for many years.”
Parts of the main motorway connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were temporarily closed as Israel’s police searched for other explosives in the city, and two crossings into the occupied West Bank were shut.
Police said initial findings showed that the blasts were caused by explosive devices supplemented with nails for maximum damage, left in bags hidden in bushes behind walls at the sites, and detonated remotely by mobile phone.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group in control of the blockaded Gaza Strip, praised the attacks as a “heroic operation” but did not claim responsibility.
Wednesday’s explosions mark an escalation in what is by some measures already the deadliest year in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 2005: more than 130 Palestinians have been killed in fighting in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since the beginning of 2022, and 29 Israelis have been killed in stabbing, car-ramming and gun attacks. Another 49 Palestinians, among them 17 children, were killed in a three-day Israeli aerial offensive on the Gaza Strip in August.
Attacks on Israeli buses, most of them carried out by suicide bombers, were a hallmark of the 2000-05 intifada, but have been rare since. In 2016, a Hamas operative injured 21 people after detonating his device on a Jerusalem bus and in 2011 a bomb in a rucksack killed two people outside the Jerusalem international convention centre.
A senior security official told the Israeli daily Haaretz: “The character of the twin attacks indicates that there is significant infrastructure behind them, including intelligence, the obtainment and preparation of explosives.”
Israel’s outgoing prime minister, Yair Lapid, announced he would hold a security assessment with public security, military and intelligence officials later on Wednesday, before briefing the opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longtime leader, is expected to return to office in a few weeks’ time after his bloc of rightwing and religious parties won a decisive majority in elections this month. He is holding coalition talks that are likely to lead to the formation of Israel’s most extremist government ever.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right member of the Knesset who will probably become internal security minister in the new administration, said the bombing meant Israel needed to take a tougher stance on Palestinian militants, including a return to targeted assassinations. “Even if it’s in the West Bank, lay siege to them and go from house to house in search of guns and restore our deterrence power,” he said at the scene of the first explosion. “We must return to be in control of Israel.”
Lapid said of the terror cell behind the bombings: “They can run, they can hide – it won’t help them; the security forces will reach them. If they resist, they will be eliminated. If not, we will punish them to the fullest extent of the law.”
He said police in Jerusalem had been placed on high alert and bolstered with reinforcements as the search for the perpetrators continued.
Israeli officials were also dealing on Wednesday with the alleged kidnapping of an 18-year-old Israeli, Tiran Fero, who was hospitalised in the West Bank town of Jenin after a car crash. According to the teenager’s family, he was disconnected from hospital equipment and abducted by Palestinian militants.
The Israeli military said the young man, a member of Israel’s Druze minority, was already dead when he was taken. It was not clear why armed men abducted Fero, but Palestinian groups have carried out kidnappings in the past to put pressure on Israel to release jailed militants or returning the bodies of those killed.
UN-brokered negotiations are under way to release the young man’s body, a Druze community leader told local media. Lapid said the militants would “pay a heavy price” if the body was not returned.
A 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Ahmed Shehadeh, was shot and killed in clashes in the West Bank city of Nablus overnight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants.
Israel has occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967. The country’s steady drift to the right, along with an impotent Palestinian Authority and the emergence of a new generation of Palestinian fighters, means a return to peace talks is highly unlikely.