Israeli leaders vowed on Tuesday to act firmly against terror after an Arab Israeli man killed four people and wounded several others in a stabbing and ramming attack in the southern city of Beersheba.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said security forces would track down any accomplices. He praised the quick action of armed civilians who shot the terrorist, preventing anyone else from being harmed.
“I send my deepest condolences to the families of those killed in the horrific attack in Beersheba and pray for the safety of the wounded,” Bennett tweeted. “The civilians who shot the terrorist showed determination and courage, and prevented further victims.
“We will act with a strong hand against those who carry out terror,” Bennett wrote. “We will hunt and reach those who help them.”
He said security forces were at “maximum alert.”
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Bennett’s spokesperson said the prime minister was being briefed on the terror attack in Beersheba and was in touch with Public Security Minister Omer Barlev and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai.
Security officials are concerned that Monday’s attack could prompt so-called “copycat” attacks, leading to a widespread escalation, Hebrew media reports said. Security forces were already bracing for a feared rise in violence toward the start of Ramadan in 10 days’ time.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 20, 2022. (Marc Israel Sellem/pool/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz also sent condolences to the victims’ families.
“The IDF and security forces will use all means to prevent terrorist incidents, as much as possible. We are on high alert against all threats in all areas,” Gantz said.
“We will make sure that anyone who encourages or supports the latest attacks will pay a price,” he added while touring the military’s northern command.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said the attack was carried out by a “cursed terrorist,” lamenting the assailant’s release from prison in 2019 after a prior terrorism conviction.
“We will not rest until we eradicate nationalist terrorism, hunt down and push back the terrorists wherever they are,” Barlev said.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted his condolences to the bereaved families and wished a full recovery to those injured.
“Anyone who tries to harm innocent civilians needs to know that Israel will lay hands on them and bring them to justice,” Lapid said.
The scene of a deadly terror attack outside the BIG shopping center in Beersheba, southern Israel, on March 22, 2022. (Flash90)
Other ministers also offered their condolences, as well as messages of determination to maintain law and order in the south, where local residents for years have complained of a general lawlessness that includes violent crime and firearms offenses.
“A difficult and painful evening,” wrote Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar. “The criminal attack demonstrates our duty to strengthen governance in the Negev. In the face of the phenomenon of radicalization, it is necessary to act firmly and preserve the sovereignty of the state throughout its territory.”
“We will continue to act with all means at our disposal to ensure the safety of Israeli citizens,” tweeted Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar leads a New Hope faction meeting at the Knesset on February 7, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked offered her condolences to the bereaved families and speedy recovery for those injured, while saying she “salutes the brave citizens who prevented the murder of additional people.”
“Citizens who acted with great courage should be recognized for their actions,” she tweeted.
Labor Minister Merav Michaeli said, “The struggle to lead safe lives in our land is not over, and we need to do everything that will achieve it.”
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said the attack “demands immediate action to catch all those who were responsible for it and to bring them to justice.”
Volunteers from ZAKA, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish emergency response team, clean up blood stains at the scene of a deadly terrorist attack outside a shopping centre in the southern city of Beersheba, on March 22, 2022. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
Bennett and Lapid, he said, “must disregard all political considerations and immediately see to the apprehension of the terrorists and restoration of security to the residents of Beersheba and the south.” In his comments on political considerations, he was apparently alluding to coalition partner Ra’am, an Arab Islamist party that has campaigned for the rights of the Bedouin population, at times clashing with other members of the government.
In a tweet, Netanyahu wrote that “Bennett and Lapid’s weakness is costing lives,” and accused them of “abandoning the lives of residents of the Negev to bloodthirsty Islamic terrorists.”
Numerous other right-wing opposition MKs criticized the government over the attack, suggesting it was due to government weakness in the Negev.
“The nationalist radicalization among Israeli Arabs is a ticking time bomb,” MK Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, wrote on Twitter. “It needs to recognized, called by its name and ripped out with zero tolerance.”
“It starts with the leadership, goes through the security services and prosecution to the courts,” he said.
The four victims of a terror attack in Beersheba on March 22, 2022: Laura Yitzhak, top left; Rabbi Moshe Kravitzky, top right; Doris Yahbas, bottom left; Menahem Yehezkel, bottom right. (Social media/courtesy)
Smotrich’s fellow Religious Zionism MK Ofir Sofer also hit out at the government and was more explicit than Netanyahu in drawing a link to Ra’am.
“When the Israeli government is held at the neck by the Muslim Brotherhood movement… this murderous and painful terror attack is the first symptom,” he said.
Ra’am issued a statement condemning the “despicable attack in Beersheba,” and sending condolences to the families of those killed.
“Ra’am calls on all citizens to preserve the common, fragile social fabric, to be responsible and advance a discourse of tolerance in this difficult hour,” the party said.
A suspected assailant being shot in Beersheba on March 22, 2022. (Screenshot: Twitter)
Joint List lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman, also in the opposition, condemned the attack ”on innocent civilians in Beersheba.”
“I send my prayers for the recovery of the wounded and condolences to the families of those killed,” Touma-Sliman said in a statement.
Touma-Sliman warned the attack may lead to “racist incitement” against Bedouins living in Israel’s southern Negev desert.
”This is not the way of the Arab community generally, and in the Negev in particular, in its just struggle against ongoing dispossession and oppression,” Touma-Sliman said.
Arab Joint List MK Aida Touma-Suleiman. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Joint List leader MK Atman Odeh later tweeted that he “read with shock about the murderous incident in Beersheba.” Offering condolences for the victims families and wishes of recovery to those injured, he added, “Violence is not our way and we must strongly condemn it.”
The Bedouin town of Hura, where the assailant was from, “condemned in every way possible the deadly attack.”
“Attacking innocent civilians is a criminal and despicable act of terrorism,” the Hura local council said in a statement. “The council calls on both Arabs and Jews of the Negev to maintain the neighborly relations between the two sides that there has been until now.”
The stabber was identified as 34-year-old Mohammad Ghaleb Abu al-Qi’an, a terror convict who was released from prison in 2019.
According to the Zaka emergency service, Abu al-Qi’an died of his wounds.
The Shin Bet said it was investigating the attack.
The Hamas terror group praised the stabbing attack, saying it “salutes the executor of the heroic operation in occupied Beersheba.”
“The occupation’s crimes shall be met with heroic operations: stabbings, rammings and shootings,” Hamas spokesperson Abd al-Latif al-Qanou told official Hamas radio.
The terror group did not claim the stabber as a member.