Police expand presence in Jerusalem after car attack

Israeli policemen inspect a car wreck in Jerusalem on Oct 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Israeli policemen inspect a car wreck in Jerusalem on Oct 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Jerusalem police has vowed a "zero tolerance" policy towards violence after a Palestinian rammed his car into a crowd, killing a baby and triggering clashes across the city's annexed eastern sector.

It was the second such deadly incident involving a Palestinian driving a vehicle in three months, and prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to order an immediate increase in the police presence across the Holy City.

The driver, 21-year-old Abdelrahman Shaludi from the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan, drove his car at high speed into a group of pedestrians, killing a three-month-old girl and injuring six other people.

He was shot by police as he tried to flee the scene and later died of his injuries, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The early evening incident triggered clashes between stonethrowing youths and police in several east Jerusalem neighbourhoods which lasted late into the night.

Police warned they would not tolerate any further unrest, referring to clashes which have gripped the eastern part of the city on an almost daily basis for the past four months.

"Jerusalem police emphasises that it will demonstrate zero tolerance towards any incident of violence and will put its hand on anyone who disturbs public order in the city and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law," police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement.

Overnight, clashes took place in the districts of Silwan, Issawiya, Shuafat refugee camp, Al-Tur and Ras al-Amud - all of them flashpoints in Arab east Jerusalem, which was occupied and annexed by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War in a move never recognised by the international community.

Stones were also thrown at the light rail in Shuafat, which has repeatedly been a target for local anger in recent months. Police said the train was damaged but nobody was injured.

Most of the extra police forces were deployed in areas of friction, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

He said a number of people had been arrested for stonethrowing overnight but declined to give numbers.

"On an operational level, police presence was reinforced with extra border police, a motorcycle unit and other units who specialise in public order," he said, indicating they were deployed in areas such as Wadi Joz, Issawiya and Silwan to prevent any fresh unrest.

He said police had activated "a strategic plan" to end the wave of unrest, which would incorporate human resources, technological resources and intelligence.

Washington denounced the attack as "despicable" and called for both sides to demonstrate restraint.

"We urge all sides to maintain calm and avoid escalating tensions in the wake of this incident," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement, without confirming reports that the infant had US citizenship.

Shaludi drove his car at top speed into pedestrians near the Ammunition Hill tram stop on the seamline between west and occupied east Jerusalem.

Three-month-old Haya Zissel Braun died of her injuries and was buried on Wednesday evening.

Among the six others, one was in serious condition, another was moderately hurt and four sustained light injuries, medics said.

Samri described the incident as a "hit and run terror attack" - the second in the area in just under three months.

During the most recent incident in August, a Palestinian man rammed a bus with an excavator, killing one Israeli and injuring five. Police shot the driver dead.

Witnesses to Wednesday's attack told AFP the car had ploughed into the crowd "at full speed".

Footage posted on YouTube showed a car veering off the main road and cutting down a group of people on the pavement.

Family members said Shaludi had been recently released from an Israeli prison where he served 14 months for disturbing the peace, a euphemism for throwing stones or participating in unrest.

Silwan, where he came from, is a densely populated Arab neighbourhood on a steep hillside just south of the Old City that has been wracked by unrest in recent years after Jewish hardliners took up residence in the area.

It hit the headlines in the past month after settlers acquired another 35 apartments there, triggering a furious reaction from both the Palestinians and the international community.

Netanyahu's office alleged that Shaludi was a member of Hamas.

Relatives confirmed to AFP that Shaludi was a nephew of senior Hamas bomb-maker Muhi al-Din Sharif who was killed in the West Bank in 1998, but it was not clear whether the 21-year-old was a member of the Islamist movement.

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