JERUSALEM — Palestinian militants carried out a pair of attacks on Friday, killing three people and wounding at least seven as tensions soared after days of fighting at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site. Earlier in the day, retaliatory Israeli airstrikes had hit Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, sparking fears of a broader conflict.
Israeli authorities said at least one person was killed and six were wounded when a car rammed into four people in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial hub.
In a separate incident, two Israeli women were shot to death near a settlement on the occupied West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was calling up all reserve forces in Israel’s border police “to confront the terror attacks.”
Israel had unleashed rare airstrikes on Lebanon and bombarded the Gaza Strip on Friday morning, but later in the day there were signs that both sides were trying to keep the hostilities in check. Fighting on Israel’s northern and southern borders subsided after dawn, and midday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem passed peacefully.
The early morning Israeli strikes followed an unusually large rocket barrage fired at Israel from southern Lebanon — some of the heaviest and most serious cross-border violence since Israel’s 2006 war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants.
The violence erupted after Israeli police raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem earlier in the week, sparking unrest in the contested capital and outrage across the Arab world.
In the Tel Aviv car attack Friday, the driver rammed into a group of people near a popular seaside park, police said. Israel’s rescue service said a 30-year-old Italian man was killed, while four other people were receiving medical treatment for mild to moderate injuries.
Police said they shot the driver of the car. The driver’s condition was uncertain, but social media videos show a body on the ground beside an overturned car while gunshots ring out.
The West Bank shooting killed two sisters in their 20s and seriously wounded their 45-year-old mother near an Israeli settlement in the Jordan Valley, Israeli officials said. The women killed were British citizens, the Foreign Office said. The family lived in the Efrat settlement, near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, said Oded Revivi, the settlement’s mayor.
Medics said they dragged the unconscious women from their smashed car, which appeared to have been pushed off the road.
No groups claimed responsibility for either attack. The Hamas militant group that rules Gaza praised the attack in Tel Aviv as a response to Israel’s “crimes against Al-Aqsa Mosque and worshippers.” And Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem called the West Bank attack “retaliation for the crimes committed by Israel in the West Bank and the Al-Aqsa mosque.”
The Israeli airstrikes seemed designed to avoid drawing in Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite group that Israel considers its most immediate threat. Israel’s military said its warplanes struck infrastructure belonging to Hamas militants that it accused of firing the nearly three dozen rockets that slammed into open areas and towns in northern Israel on Thursday.
There were no reports of serious casualties from the airstrikes, but several people in the southern Lebanese town of Qalili, including Syrian refugees, said they were lightly wounded.
“I immediately gathered my wife and children and got them out of the house,” said Qalili resident Bilal Suleiman, who was jolted awake by the bombing.
A flock of sheep was killed when the Israeli missiles struck a field near the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiyeh, according to an Associated Press photographer. Other airstrikes hit a bridge and a power transformer in nearby Maaliya, and damaged an irrigation system.
In the Gaza Strip, Israel’s military pounded what it said were weapons production sites and underground tunnels belonging to Hamas, which rules the Palestinian enclave. A children’s hospital in Gaza City was among sites sustaining damage, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
After the retaliatory strikes, Israelis living along the southern border returned home from bomb shelters. Most missiles that managed to cross into Israeli territory hit open areas, but one landed in the town of Sderot, sending shrapnel slicing into a house.
There were no reports of casualties on either side of the southern border.
The Israeli military said everyone wanted to avoid a full-blown conflict. “Quiet will be answered with quiet,” said spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht. A Qatari official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the emirate was mediating.
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant toured the site late Friday and vowed to catch the attacker. “It’s just a matter of time, and not much time, until we settle the score,” Netanyahu said.
He said his Security Cabinet had passed a series of measures overnight. “We acted in Lebanon, we acted in Gaza, we beefed up forces in the field,” he said.
Jerusalem’s holy site of Al-Aqsa sits on a hilltop sacred to both Muslims and Jews. In 2021, an escalation triggered by clashes there spilled over into an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
On Friday, over 130,000 worshippers poured into the compound for midday prayers, which ended without incident.
Before dawn prayers, chaos had erupted at an entrance to the esplanade as Israeli police wielding batons descended on crowds of Palestinian worshippers who chanted slogans praising Hamas as they tried to squeeze into the site. An hour later, according to videos, people leaving the prayers staged a large protest on the limestone courtyard, raising their fists and shouting against Israel. Israeli police forced their way into the compound, inflaming tensions during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Police said security forces entered the holy compound after prayers in response to “masked suspects” who threw rocks toward officers at one of the gates. Israeli authorities control access to the area but the compound is administered by Islamic and Jordanian officials.
The unrest comes at a delicate time for Jerusalem’s Old City, which was teeming with pilgrims from around the world. The Christian faithful retraced the route Jesus is said to have taken for Good Friday, Jews celebrated the weeklong Passover holiday, and Muslims prayed and fasted for Ramadan.
The current round of violence began Wednesday after Israeli police twice raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque — in one case fiercely beating Palestinians, who responded by hurling rocks and firecrackers. That led Thursday to rocket fire from Gaza and, in an unusual escalation, the barrage from southern Lebanon and the Israeli retaliation.
Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry said it had instructed its mission to the United Nations to submit a complaint to the U.N. Security Council against the “deliberate Israeli bombing and aggression,” which it condemned as “a flagrant violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty.”
Israel, meanwhile, appealed to the international community to condemn the rocket fire from Lebanon and Gaza and what it said was incitement to violence by Hamas. It urged U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to issue a Security Council condemnation of Lebanon and Hamas.
The Israeli foreign minister, Eli Cohen, spoke by phone with his counterparts from Turkey and Bahrain — both countries that only recently improved ties with Israel — about how to calm tensions.
Even as a fragile calm took hold along the Lebanese and Gaza borders, the West Bank remained volatile. Violence has surged to new heights there in recent months, with Palestinian health officials reporting the start of 2023 to be the most deadly for Palestinians in two decades.
Nearly 90 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank since the start of the year, according to an Associated Press tally. During that time, 16 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis — all but one of them civilians. Israel says most of the Palestinian victims have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting police incursions and people not involved in the confrontations have also been killed.