An Arab attacker armed with a gun and a knife has opened fire in a southern Israel bus station, killing an Israeli soldier and wounding 10 people in one of the boldest attacks yet in a month-long wave of violence.
The attack came as Israel tightened security around the country, highlighted by the construction of a barrier separating Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem.
In a bid to halt the fighting, US secretary of state John Kerry said he would meet the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the coming days.
Israel has deployed thousands of police, backed up by troops, to maintain order following a spate of attacks, mostly stabbings, by Palestinian assailants. Those measures have so far failed to stop the violence.
In the latest attack, police said the Arab assailant entered the central bus station in the southern city of Beersheba and began shooting and stabbing people. They said an Israeli soldier was killed, five police were lightly wounded and five civilians were wounded to varying degrees.
Yoram Halevy, a police commander in southern Israel, told reporters that in addition to the knife and gun he was carrying, the attacker also snatched a weapon from the soldier he killed.
The attacker was shot and killed.
A foreigner was shot by police during the attack after they apparently mistook him for an assailant. Mr Halevy said security forces responding to the attack entered the bus station from another area and saw a “foreign national”, shooting and wounding him.
Israeli media said the foreigner was an Eritrean national living in Israel.
Shimon Zaguri, head of ZAKA Beer Sheva, an emergency response team said: “I received a report of a shooting incident at the central bus station. I arrived with a team of volunteers in a ZAKA ambulance. I saw a battle scene with wounded everywhere. We helped Magen David Adom evacuate the critically wounded soldier to hospital whilst administering CPR. As soon as the injured had been taken to hospital, we remained at the scene to collect the remains of the Jewish victim. We wrapped the body of the terrorist in a black bag, in line with the new policy of distinguishing between terrorist and victim.”
Israeli media showed footage of a blood-streaked floor and rows of ambulances outside the bus station. Security camera footage from the bus station aired on Israeli TV showed what appeared to be a civilian shooting the attacker as soldiers and civilians crouched for cover nearby.
The attack was one of the most serious incidents amid near-daily bouts of violence that have hit Israel and the Palestinian territories over the past month. After the attack, a crowd of Israelis gathered outside the bus station and chanted “death to Arabs”.
The unrest erupted in Jerusalem a month ago over tensions surrounding a Jerusalem holy site sacred to Jews and Muslims. It soon spread to Arab neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem and then to the West Bank, Gaza and Israel.
Israel has struggled to contain near-daily attacks by Palestinian assailants. Authorities have blocked roads and placed checkpoints at the entrances of Palestinian neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem. Other security measures include ID checks and requiring some Palestinian residents to lift their shirts and roll up trouser legs as they exit their neighbourhoods to prove they are not carrying knives. Soldiers have been deployed in Jerusalem and cities across Israel.
On Sunday, Israeli police erected a barrier to separate the Jewish neighbourhood of Armon Hanatziv from the adjacent Palestinian neighbourhood of Jabal Mukaber as part of the heightened security. A number of attackers have come from Jabal Mukaber.