A Palestinian attacker turned a construction vehicle into a fearsome weapon in downtown Jerusalem just hours before Barack Obama's visit Tuesday, ramming a bus, overturning a car and injuring five people before he was shot dead.
It was the second attack of its kind in less than a month. On July 2, a Palestinian smashed cars and a bus with his heavy construction vehicle in another part of Jerusalem, killing three people and wounding dozens.
Both men were from east Jerusalem, where Palestinian residents hold Israeli ID cards and can move freely about Israel.
Early Tuesday afternoon, the Palestinian rammed his yellow vehicle into a bus several times before the bus driver moved the vehicle to safety, then crushed a small car with his heavy scoop, overturned a sedan and repeatedly hit cars waiting at a stoplight before he was shot dead.
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“After I passed him, he turned round, made a U-turn and rammed the windows twice with the shovel. The third time he aimed for my head, he came up to my window and I swerved to the right. Otherwise I would have gone to meet my maker,” said the bus driver, Avi Levi.
“Suddenly I heard smashing and crashing and heard people shouting and lots of people came running down the street,” said Eran Sternberg, 33, who was on the sidewalk talking on his phone at the time. “Then the bulldozer came down the street and overturned the car next to me, almost hitting me.”
Sternberg then began to take a video with his cellular phone. The clip shows the vehicle — called a backhoe loader — stopped a few feet from him, as an armed civilian ran up and began shooting at the driver through the glass door. The large shovel then jerked and fell to the ground, where it rested as a border policeman ran up to shoot at the driver again.
Police identified the driver as Ghassan Abu Teir, a 22-year-old east Jerusalem resident related to a militantly anti-Israel politician from the Islamic Hamas, Mohammed Abu Teir. The driver's family said he was not affiliated with any militant group.
Many Israelis carry guns through their work in the military or as security guards. The man who shot Tuesday's attacker lives in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Sternberg said. Many settlers have licenses to carry weapons for their protection.
“Unfortunately, it is clear that we as a society will have to remain vigilant against terrorism,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.
In Washington, White House press secretary Dana Perino said, “Terrorist attacks do nothing to further the goals of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace, a goal the president has been advocating for, and that both of those countries' leaders have been working toward.”
The Palestinian driver's onslaught began just down the street from Jerusalem's historic King David Hotel, where Obama will stay during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian areas.
More immediately, Tuesday's attack had Israeli Jews questioning whether they could continue to let Palestinians from east Jerusalem — who make up about one-third of the city's population of 750,000 and work at many of its unskilled jobs — freely enter the Jewish section.