A Palestinian motorist with a history of anti-Israel violence slammed his car into a crowded train station in Jerusalem on Wednesday, killing a three-month-old baby girl and wounding eight people in what police called a terror attack.
The girl and her parents, who were injured in the attack, were U.S. citizens, according to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
The violence came after months of tensions between Jews and Palestinians in east Jerusalem — the section of the city the Palestinians demand as their future capital. The area has experienced unrest and near-daily attacks on the city's light rail by Palestinian youths since a wave of violence over the summer, capped by a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.
The car struck the train station near the national headquarters of Israel's police force. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the driver got out of the car and tried to flee before he was shot by a police officer.
He said footage captured by security cameras indicated the driver deliberately struck people waiting at the stop.
"We look at this incident as a terrorist attack," Rosenfeld said. He said the area was cordoned off and forensic and bomb disposal experts were on the scene examining the car.
The footage, posted on the Ynet news site, showed the car turning out of moving traffic and heading straight into the station, accelerating while plowing through several rows of people.
Dr. Yaakov Barkun of Hadassah Medical Center said a 3-month-old girl was injured in the attack and later died of her wounds.
"She is a pure baby girl who hasn't done anything bad to anyone," Shimshon Halperin, the girl's grandfather, who is Israeli, told Channel 2 TV. "She was murdered for no reason."
It was not immediately clear if the baby and her parents also held Israeli citizenship.
Rosenfeld said the driver, a resident of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, was in serious condition. He added that the driver "has served time in Israeli prison for terrorism." Israeli media reported he was a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas.
The Israeli government informed the U.S. that Hamas was believed responsible for the attack, a U.S. official said. The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.
It wasn't clear, however, if the attack was the work of a lone wolf, the official added. There was no immediate information of any orders to carry out the attack delivered by high-level members of Hamas, the official said.
Silwan, a predominantly Arab neighborhood, has seen tensions spike in recent weeks since Jewish nationalists moved into several homes in Arab areas.
The home sales have been facilitated by nationalist Jewish groups intent on solidifying the Jewish presence in east Jerusalem. Palestinians, who seek east Jerusalem as their capital, consider the arrival of their Jewish neighbors to be a provocation.
East Jerusalem has experienced months of unrest since a wave of violence erupted over the summer. Train passengers have reported Palestinians attacking the carriages with rocks and other violence.
The unrest began with the kidnapping and killings of three teenage Israelis in the West Bank in June by a pair of Hamas operatives. Several weeks later, Jewish extremists kidnapped and burned to death a Palestinian teenager in east Jerusalem. Then, on July 8, Israel launched its war against Hamas in Gaza in response to heavy rocket fire.
East Jerusalem is home to Jerusalem's more than 200,000 Arab residents, as well as 200,000 Israelis.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed the area as part of its capital — a step that has not been recognized internationally. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state that would also include the West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement, blaming Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for adding fuel to the soaring tensions in Jerusalem with recent antagonistic comments.
Abbas "just a few days ago incited (Palestinians) to attack Jews in Jerusalem," Netanyahu said.
Abbas had called on Palestinians to prevent Jews "by any means" from visiting a Jerusalem holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews. He was referring to the hilltop compound sacred to Jews as the Temple Mount, where the two biblical Jewish Temples stood. It is also sacred to Muslims, who refer to it as Noble Sanctuary, the place from where they believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
The site is the holiest in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, and a frequent flashpoint for Palestinian demonstrations.
Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said in a statement that the U.S. condemned the attack and expressed condolences to the family.
"We urge all sides to maintain calm and avoid escalating tensions in the wake of this incident," she said.
Barkat said police presence would be beefed up in the city.
"We must restore peace and security in Jerusalem," he said. "The situation in Jerusalem is intolerable and we must act unequivocally against all violence taking place in the city."