JERUSALEM (AP) — A Palestinian gunman ambushed an Israeli family in the West Bank on Friday, killing a father and his son, while clashes with Israeli security forces in the territory killed two Palestinians in the latest escalation of violence.
According to the Israeli military, the Palestinian attacker opened fire as the family was driving near the West Bank city of Hebron, killing the father, who was in his 40s, and his 18-year-old son.
It was the latest in a two-month wave of violence in which Palestinian assaults on Israeli civilians and soldiers have become an almost daily occurrence. Hebron, the largest West Bank city, has been a particular flashpoint in the current round of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Several hundred Jewish settlers live in fortified enclaves in the city, amid tens of thousands of Palestinians.
The military says that over the past month, Palestinians have carried out dozens of attacks in Hebron alone, including more than 20 stabbings, multiple assaults with cars and other vehicles and several shooting attacks.
Israeli media aired footage from the aftermath of the attack, showing a crashed car by the roadside. The reports said there were seven members of a West Bank settlement family in the car, driving home to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath when they were attacked.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed condolences and vowed to hunt down the attackers. "We will find the despicable murderers and bring them to justice as we have in the past," he said in a statement.
Channel 10 released a dramatic audio of a call it said was from one of the passengers in the car calling rescue services as the attack unfolded. In the recording, a man's voice can be heard saying they have a passenger wounded in the head and that an ambulance from the Palestinian Red Crescent had arrived at the scene but sped away, leaving them there.
The gunman used an AK-47 assault rifle and more than 10 bullets were fired, the TV station said, adding that he had accomplices. The military said the attacker fled the scene and that troops were searching the area.
Dr. Tzvi Perry from Soroka hospital in the southern Israeli town of Beersheba said "five wounded people from the same family" were brought to the hospital. The mother had light injuries to the chest and limbs; a son sustained a gunshot wound in the leg and three young girls had minor scratches, he said.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, praised the attack but stopped short of claiming responsibility for it.
Since mid-September, most of the Palestinian attacks have been stabbings, targeting seemingly random pedestrians or people passing by, but Friday's attack appeared to be more carefully planned and executed.
It was reminiscent of a similar incident in October, when Palestinians shot and killed an Israeli couple in front of their four children, including a 4-months-old infant, as the family was driving in the West Bank. Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency later arrested five Palestinians it said were part of a Hamas cell that had carried out the attack.
The current round of bloodshed was triggered by unrest at a major Jerusalem shrine revered by both Muslims and Jews, and quickly spread to Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza border.
Israel has accused Palestinian political and religious leaders of inciting the violence that is glorified in detail on Palestinian social media sites. Palestinians say the violence is due to a lack of hope for gaining independence.
So far in the two months of violence, 14 Israelis have died, mostly in stabbing attacks, while 81 Palestinians have been killed. Israel says 51 of the Palestinians were involved in assaults and the rest died in clashes with security forces.
Meanwhile, a Hebron hospital said a Palestinian was shot and killed in clashes with Israeli security forces near the city on Friday. Israel's military said hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks and rolled burning tires at soldiers stationed near Hebron who opened fire at "the main instigators."
Osama Al-Najar, the Palestinian Health ministry spokesman, said a second Palestinian was killed Friday in clashes with Israeli military, near the city of Ramallah.
The military said a Palestinian was shot after he grabbed a soldier's gun at a protest where Palestinians threw fire bombs. The Palestinian ministry reported that 22 other Palestinians were wounded in clashes in the West Bank. And earlier Friday, a Palestinian died of wounds sustained in clashes the previous day.
After Friday prayers in the Gaza Strip, hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli soldiers on the border. The Gaza health ministry said 17 rock-throwers were hurt from Israeli retaliatory fire.
In other developments Friday, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced his return to the difficult world of Mideast diplomacy, saying he was launching a new initiative to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace as a private citizen.
Blair's announcement came six months after he stepped down as the Mideast envoy for the Quartet — a group that represents the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
Blair said the experience and contacts made during his eight years in that post would help him in his new effort, though he is viewed with skepticism in the region.
"What I have found actually since leaving the Quartet role is that it's been easier to have conversations in complete frankness with people. And since I have the relationships, people are maybe prepared in some way to be more forthcoming," he said.
The initiative will include promoting a 2002 Arab initiative that offered a comprehensive peace with Israel in exchange for a full pullout from lands captured from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war, working to improve the Palestinian economy and trying to end a split that has left the Palestinians split.
Blair's return comes at a difficult time. The Syrian civil war and rise of the Islamic State militant group have largely pushed the Palestinian issue off the international agenda.