May 28, 2024

An Italian man has died and five other British and Italian tourists have been injured in an attack in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, the latest episode of violence after several days of rising tensions sparked fears of a broader conflagration in the region.

The 30-year-old Italian died from a gunshot wound, Israel’s rescue service said on Friday night, the Jewish holy day. At the same time, Israeli police said a car had been driven into people near the beach, and that the driver had been shot and killed.

It was not immediately clear if there had been one incident or two separate ones.

Israeli media reported that the assailant was an Arab citizen of Israel, from the northern town of Kafr Qasem.

The Italian man was named as Alessandro Parini from Rome by the country’s premier, Giorgia Meloni, who expressed “solidarity with Israel for the vile attack”. Israel’s rescue service said five other British and Italian tourists — including a 74-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl — were receiving medical treatment for mild to moderate injuries.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ordered the mobilisation of police and army reserves after the incident, his office said in a statement.

Video of the incident shared on social media showed that the car had veered off the street and on to a path before flipping over over on to the beach.

The attack comes against a backdrop of fears of escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict drawing in the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah after Israel bombed sites in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon early on Friday in response to rocket fire blamed on Palestinian militants from the two territories.

Israel and Lebanon are technically still at war, and Thursday’s barrage of about 34 rockets aimed at northern Israel was the biggest flare-up between the two countries since a short war with the Iran-backed militant group in 2006.

The situation along the borders appeared to have calmed by dawn, and the lack of casualties in the frontier standoffs also suggested that no side wanted to risk further hostilities.

More than 130,000 worshippers attended Friday prayers at Jerusalem’s holiest site, which passed without significant incident despite the tensions and an influx of pilgrims celebrating the rare overlapping festivals of Easter, Passover and Ramadan.

But a shooting attack in the West Bank which killed two British-Israeli sisters and critically injured their mother a few hours later, the shooting down of a drone that entered Israeli territory from Lebanon, and the attack in Tel Aviv suggested that wider escalation is still a substantial threat.

A US state department spokesperson said on Friday that the US “strongly condemns today’s terrorist attacks … in which three were killed and at least eight others wounded, affected citizens of Israel, Italy and the United Kingdom. The targeting of innocent civilians of any nationality is unconscionable.”

The current round of fighting began on Wednesday, after Israeli police twice raided occupied East Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to Muslims and Jews, who call it the Temple Mount. Video of police beating Palestinian worshippers with batons and the butts of rifles was met with widespread anger across the Muslim world, and led on Thursday to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Hezbollah, the Shia group that helps Israel’s arch enemy Iran project its power across the region, has faced extensive attacks by Israel in Syrian territory over the past week, striking at what Israel believes to be drone manufacturing sites. At least two members of the organisation have been killed.

The militant group has vowed to strike back, but, like Hamas, is wary of an escalation. The violence at al-Aqsa may have offered a pretext for retaliation. Although Israel said Hamas was behind the attack from Lebanon, it is widely believed that Hezbollah must have greenlighted the move.

This week’s violence comes after the deadliest start to the year in Israel and the occupied West Bank since the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in the 2000s. About 90 Palestinians, roughly half of them combatants, have been killed by Israeli fire so far this year, according to tallies by human rights groups. Palestinian “lone wolf” attacks have killed 16 Israelis, all but one of them civilians, three Ukrainians and the Italian national shot on Friday.

Israel has also been roiled by political turmoil since the most rightwing government in the country’s history took office at the end of last year. Huge protests against the coalition’s proposed judicial overhaul have included large numbers of military reservists, raising concerns about operational readiness.

Netanyahu publicly fired his defence minister two weeks ago for voicing opposition to the judicial overhaul, but he appears to have remained in post.