Jerusalem attack kills policewoman, attackers shot dead

Jerusalem (AFP) - Three Palestinians armed with rifles, knives and explosives attacked Israeli police outside Jerusalem's Old City on Wednesday, killing one officer and wounding another before being shot dead.

The attack outside the Old City's Damascus Gate was part of a four-month wave of violence, but was among the most severe in Jerusalem, where many assaults have involved knives.

The policewoman died of a gunshot wound to the head that she suffered when the border police approached the Palestinians for identity checks, Israeli authorities said.

"As one was producing identification, his accomplices... started firing and stabbing and managed to wound two female officers," a police statement said.

The surviving officer's injuries were described as "moderate to serious".

Officers opened fire and killed the attackers, police said, adding they were all from the northern West Bank village of Qabatiya, near Jenin.

Troops on Wednesday evening were carrying out security checks on Palestinians entering and leaving the village, the army said.

Palestinian media named the assailants as Ahmad Zakarneh, Mohammed Kameel and Ahmed Abu Al-Rub.

They were believed to be 19 to 20 years old.

Police named the dead female officer as 19-year-old Hadar Cohen.

Security forces locked down the area after the attack as crowds gathered to see what happened or to try to return to their homes in the Old City.

Palestinians frequently use Damascus Gate to enter the Old City, as do tourists sometimes.

Mayor Nir Barkat said the men's arrival with weapons in Jerusalem meant a further clampdown on access routes from the adjoining Israeli-occupied West Bank should be examined.

"We need to tighten (restrictions) on the places from which the threat comes," he said.

- An escalation? -

Israel occupied east Jerusalem, where Damascus Gate is located, in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

Major roads to and from the West Bank pass through Israeli security checkpoints and a concrete wall runs through much of the area but the border is still porous in many places.

A wave of Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming attacks erupted in October. Most have been stabbings, although there have also been occasional shootings.

Wednesday's attack was the bloodiest in Jerusalem in weeks.

On December 23, an Israeli was stabbed to death, another shot dead and a third wounded at Jaffa Gate, seemingly from a stray bullet as police fired on and killed the two Palestinian assailants.

Speaking about the latest violence, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said there was evidence the assailants were seeking to carry out a major attack.

"Found on the terrorists' bodies were (Swedish-designed) Carl Gustav rifles, knives and explosive devices which were defused by bomb disposal experts," she said.

Pictures released by police showed what appear to be two vintage submachine guns.

"The arms testify to a complex attack that was prevented by the forces who protected Jerusalem residents with their bodies," said Samri.

Shortly after the attack, Israeli media were calling it "an escalation" in the more than four months of violence.

- 'Lethality of attacks increasing' -

In the aftermath, a police helicopter hovered overhead and cleanup teams hosed away pools of blood.

The wave of violence has killed 26 Israelis, as well as an American and an Eritrean, according to an AFP count.

At the same time, 164 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, most while carrying out attacks but others during clashes and demonstrations.

An Israeli teenager was lightly wounded Saturday in a stabbing attack at Damascus Gate allegedly carried out by two young Palestinians, who have since been arrested.

Some analysts say Palestinian frustration with Israeli occupation, the complete lack of progress in peace efforts and their own fractured leadership have fed the unrest.

Israel blames incitement by Palestinian leaders and media as a main cause.

Many of the attackers have been young people, including teenagers, who appear to have been acting alone.

"We are seeing more armed attacks in the last month," said Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group think-tank.

"Mostly we have seen shooting at settler cars in the West Bank but also attacks like today. The lethality of attacks has been increasing."