JERUSALEM – A Palestinian driver rammed a construction vehicle into a bus and police car on a highway Thursday, wounding two officers before he was shot dead, police said, the latest in a string of attacks by militants using heavy machinery against Israeli targets.
Witnesses described a harrowing sight of a towering yellow front loader speeding along Jerusalem's Begin Highway, dragging the police car, flipping it into the air and trying to crush it with its front shovel.
Begin Highway is a main thoroughfare connecting the city's north and south. Witnesses said the attacker apparently worked at a nearby construction site. There was no immediate claim of responsibility and police said the man was not carrying identification.
"It was simply an attack meant to murder innocent people," Mayor Nir Barkat told Channel 2 television. He called for the demolition of the attacker's home, a tactic that has drawn international criticism in the past. Barkat said home demolitions are needed to deter other attacks.
The rampage came as Israel prepared to celebrate Purim, a holiday in which schools are closed, children dress up in costumes and families are out and about at parties and public events.
Barkat said the attack would not stop next week's celebrations. "We need to get back to our routine as fast as possible to show the terrorists that they won't ruin our holiday," he said.
One witness, a taxi driver identified as "Dor," told Israel Radio that he chased the driver as he watched the attack unfold.
"I saw the police car fly into the air. He flipped it over twice, then continued dragging it toward a bus that was stuck in traffic," he said. He told the station he fired four shots at the man, wounding him. "Then a policeman came with his M-16 and finished him off," he said.
Deputy police chief Nisso Shachar said the attacker was first spotted by a traffic police car. "The officer saw the bulldozer lift up a police squad car with its shovel after trying to squash it," he said. "It is without a doubt a terror attack."
Schachar said the man was killed and an open copy of the Koran, Islam's holy book, was found in the vehicle. He said the presence of the book indicated the attacker was affiliated with or influenced by Islamic radicals. Police said the two wounded officers were lightly hurt.
It was the third bulldozer attack in Jerusalem in the past eight months.
Last July, a Palestinian smashed cars and a bus with his heavy construction vehicle in central Jerusalem, killing three people and wounding dozens. Three weeks later, a Palestinian attacker driving a construction vehicle rammed a bus, overturned a car and wounded five people before he was shot dead.
In September, a Palestinian driver rammed his car into a crowd of Israeli soldiers, wounding 19 people, before he was shot dead.
All of the attackers were from east Jerusalem, where Palestinian residents hold Israeli ID cards and can move freely about Israel.
The attack came amid a new surge in fighting in the Gaza Strip, about 50 miles southwest of Jerusalem.
An Israeli air strike early Thursday killed two Islamic Jihad militants and wounded another, bringing to four the number of group members killed by Israel in less than 24 hours and drawing retaliatory rocket fire at Israel.
Islamic Jihad said the three men were returning together to their homes in the Mughazi refugee camp in central Gaza after a night spent on patrol along the Gaza-Israel border when they were targeted.
The Israeli military said an aircraft attacked the three armed men after they fired an anti-tank missile at troops on the Israeli side of the border fence. No soldiers were reported injured.
An Israeli airstrike Wednesday evening killed two members of Islamic Jihad — an Iranian and Syrian-backed backed militant group.
Islamic Jihad official Abu Ahmed vowed Thursday morning that his group would avenge the killings.
"Our rockets and our resistance will not stop," he said. "We know where and when we will take revenge for these crimes."
Later on Thursday three rockets fired from Gaza landed in empty ground in southern Israel, the military said. There were no reports of casualties.
There has been sporadic violence in Gaza since Israel ended a fierce three-week offensive on Jan. 18. Egypt has been trying to broker a cease-fire since then.