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Islamic State claims responsibility for fatal stabbing of police officer in Jerusalem

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Israeli police work around the body of a Palestinian in Jerusalem on June 17. The man was one of three Palestinians who authorities said attacked Israeli officers near Jerusalem’s Old City.
(Mahmoud Illean / Associated Press)

Palestinian militants launched an attack with guns and knives near Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, killing a border policewoman and wounding three other people in the first attack within Israel or the West Bank claimed by the militant group Islamic State.

Hours after the attack, the group announced that “soldiers of the caliphate” had launched the “blessed operation … on a gathering of Jews,” and vowed additional attacks.

Almost immediately, Hamas rejected the Islamic State claim and said one of the attackers belonged to Hamas, and two others to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, both domestic Palestinian groups.

“The three hero martyrs who executed the Jerusalem operation have no connection to Daesh [Islamic State], they are affiliated with the PFLP and Hamas,” a Hamas official, Izzat El-Reshiq, wrote on Twitter.

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The Israeli military also challenged Islamic State’s claim. On Saturday, an Israeli officer said the army believes the attackers were a “local” organization without links to Islamic State or Hamas.

Hearing reports on a police radio of gunfire at an East Jerusalem holy site several blocks away from the Old City, a group of Israeli border police near the Old City’s Damascus Gate was preparing to respond when an assailant began stabbing Staff Sgt. Maj. Hadas Malka, 23, repeatedly, authorities said. The officer was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Three other people were shot and injured at the scene of the gunfire, several blocks away.

Israeli police said they killed three Palestinians involved in the attack. The attackers were identified by Israeli security services as residents of the West Bank, at least two of them teenagers from a village near the city of Ramallah.

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Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, denounced the attack. “Such terrorist attacks must be clearly condemned by all,’’ he said in a statement.

Israeli security services have occasionally announced arrests of small cells said to be affiliated with Islamic State, and the army has tracked the group’s forces on the Syrian and Egyptian border, but the organization has thus far not claimed a deadly attack against Israelis from the West Bank.

Earlier this year, Islamic State claimed that it had launched a rocket attack from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula into Israel. In 2016, a truck-ramming attack that killed four soldiers at a Jerusalem tourist site could have had links to the group, Israeli authorities said, but Islamic State did not claim responsibility.

Israeli intelligence officers have said they believe that the group has been focusing their main efforts on attacking Arab states in the region, but cautioned that a successful attack on Israelis would add to the organization’s prestige in the Arab world.

Kobi Michael, a former official at Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, said he was dubious of the Islamic State claim. He said it was unlikely that the group had a developed a sufficiently extensive underground in the West Bank — in light of counter-terror efforts by Israel and the Palestinian Authority security forces — to carry out such such an attack.

Since late 2015, Israel has been grappling with occasional fatal stabbing attacks by individuals on soldiers and civilians. Many of the stabbing attacks have targeted border police deployed at the Damascus Gate. But the attack Friday evening suggested that the three suspects were operating as a team and had planned the attack.

In response to the attack, Israeli security services said that they were canceling entry permits for West Bank Palestinians to visit relatives inside Israel during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Mitnick is a special correspondent.

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@joshmitnick

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UPDATES:

6:25 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from the Israeli military; Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process; and Kobi Michael, a former official at Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry.

This article was originally published at 12:25 a.m.

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