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World News

Bethlehem church leader prays for peace amid repeated attacks

by Reuters Journalist

An Italian tourist was killed and five people were wounded, including British passport holders, in a car ramming in Tel Aviv on Friday that came hours after two British-Israeli sisters were killed in a shooting attack in the West Bank.

The attacks, after a night of crossborder strikes in Gaza and Lebanon, added to heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions following Israeli police raids in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque this week.

It comes as religious people flock to the Holy Land for Easter, Passover and Ramadan, which all coincide this year.

The tensions threatened to spiral into a wider conflict overnight as Israel responded to a barrage of rockets by hitting targets linked to the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza and southern Lebanon, but the fighting entered a lull on Friday.

However, the two attacks underlined how volatile the situation remains after successive nights of trouble that have drawn worldwide alarm and calls for calm.

In the latest attack, a car ploughed into a group on a street near a popular bike and walking path on a Tel Aviv promenade. The driver was shot dead by a nearby police officer when he tried to pull a gun, police said.

An Israeli security source identified the assailant as an Arab citizen of Israel from the town of Kafr Qassem.

Reuters video from shortly after the incident showed a white car upside down on the grass of a park. Police cordoned off the area that was brimming with emergency responders.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service said the victims were all foreign tourists. Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani confirmed that an Italian had been killed and other Italians may have been among the wounded.

Earlier on Friday, two Israeli sisters, aged 20 and 16 with joint British nationality, were killed and their mother wounded in a shooting attack on their car near the Jewish settlement of Hamra in the Jordan Valley.

"Our enemies are putting us to the test again," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after visiting the site of the attack with Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

As soldiers hunted for the gunman, Netanyahu ordered border police reserves and additional military forces to be mobilised to confront the wave of attacks.

The U.S. State Department condemned the attacks, saying "the targeting of innocent civilians of any nationality is unconscionable."

No claim of responsibility was made for either of Friday's attacks, but Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the blockaded Gaza Strip, praised them and linked them to the tensions around Al-Aqsa mosque.

Friday prayers passed without major incident and apart from some stone-throwing, police said the situation had been quiet.

Twice this week Israeli police have raided the mosque, where hundreds of thousands of worshippers have been praying during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, to dislodge groups they said had barricaded themselves with the aim of causing trouble.

Footage of officers beating worshippers who confronted them aroused concern, even among Israel's allies, and prompted condemnation across the Arab world.

Nihad Salman is an evangelical Christian pastor in Bethlehem. He tells Premier Christian News: “This is a very interesting weekend. On the Saturday, Passover is here. So for the Jewish in Jerusalem it’s a very holy time.

“And Sunday is the Easter, the resurrection, so it is a very special day for the Christians in Jerusalem.

“I pray that God will - and my prayer doesn’t sound realistic, but we believe on Almighty God, we believe that God is He can he nothing is too difficult for him - I'm praying these this week, we take time to pray for our people on both sides - Palestinians, Israelis - that we will come back to, to our humanity.

“We are from all of us from the same father and mother, Adam and Eve.

“I encourage our people also to pray for the leaders on both sides to think peace and justice, a peaceful justice, that it will not just appease, but also will give the rights for both sides to live safely and also have so we pray that God will.

“I pray also that God will open the hearts and the minds of our peoples that they will really consider the righteousness, the truth about the righteousness of God and what it means.”

(Additional reporting by Premier Christian News)

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