Islamic State claims responsibility for fatal stabbing of police officer in Jerusalem

Palestinian militants launched an attack with guns and knives near Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, killing a border policewoman and wounding three other people in the first attack within Israel or the West Bank claimed by the militant group Islamic State.

Hours after the attack, the group announced that “soldiers of the caliphate” had launched the “blessed operation … on a gathering of Jews” and vowed additional attacks.

Almost immediately, Hamas rejected the Islamic State claim and said one of the attackers belonged to Hamas, and two others to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, both domestic Palestinian groups.

“The three hero martyrs who executed the Jerusalem operation have no connection to Daesh (Islamic State), they are affiliated with the PFLP and Hamas,” a Hamas official, Izzat El-Reshiq, wrote on Twitter.

Hearing reports on a police radio of gunfire at an East Jerusalem holy site several blocks away from the Old City, a group of Israeli border police near the Old City’s Damascus gate was preparing to respond when an assailant began stabbing Staff Sgt. Maj. Hadas Malka, 23, repeatedly, authorities said. The officer was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Three other people were shot and injured at the scene of the gunfire, several blocks away.

Israeli police said they killed three Palestinians involved in the attack. The attackers were identified by Israeli security services as residents of the West Bank, at least two of them teenagers from a village near the city of Ramallah.

Israeli security services have occasionally announced arrests of small cells said to be affiliated with Islamic State, and the Army has tracked the group’s forces on the Syrian and Egyptian border, but the organization has thus far not claimed a deadly attack against Israelis from the West Bank.

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Earlier this year, Islamic State claimed it had launched a rocket attack from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula into Israel. In 2016, a truck ramming attack that killed four soldiers at a Jerusalem tourist site could have had links to the group, Israeli authorities said, but Islamic State did not claim responsibility.

Israeli intelligence officers have said that they believe that the group has been focusing their main efforts on attacking Arab states in the region, but cautioned that a successful attack on Israelis would add to the organization’s prestige in the Arab world.

Since late 2015, Israel has been grappling with occasional fatal stabbing attacks by individuals on soldiers and civilians. Many of the stabbing attacks have targeted border police deployed at the Old City’s Damascus Gate. But the attack Friday evening suggested that the three suspects were operating as a team and had planned the attack.

In response to the attack, Israeli security services said that they were canceling entry permits for West Bank Palestinians to visit relatives inside Israel during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Mitnick is a special correspondent.

@joshmitnick

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