JERUSALEM — A Palestinian gunman made a brazen choice of location for a deadly rampage on Sunday: Driving a speeding car, he opened fire at civilians near a light rail stop opposite Israel’s national police headquarters, on the main road that runs between West Jerusalem and the predominantly Palestinian eastern part of the city.
He then fled in the vehicle to a nearby Palestinian neighborhood, where he exchanged fire with police officers from a special counterterror unit who had chased him on motorbikes, according to the police.
Soon after, a border police unit arrived in the Palestinian neighborhood and shot the gunman dead. The police identified him as a 39-year-old resident of East Jerusalem.
Two Israelis were killed. The police said one was a member of its counterterror unit, Yosef Kirma, 29. The second was identified by Israeli news outlets as Levana Malihi, 60.
The assailant, who could not be named under a court-imposed gag order, was supposed to report to an Israeli jail on Sunday morning to serve a four-month term for assaulting a police officer in 2013, according to Israeli and Palestinian news reports. He had been jailed in the past for security offenses and incitement to violence, the reports said. A day before the shooting, he told Maan, an independent Palestinian news agency, that he intended to report to prison in Ramla, a city in central Israel, at 10 a.m. on Sunday. Instead, he apparently headed to the area around the police headquarters in Jerusalem.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Palestinian coastal territory of Gaza, praised the attack and described the gunman as “one of ours.”
The Magen David Adom Israeli ambulance service got the first call about the shootings at 10:12 a.m. In addition to the two people who were killed, it said, three others received gunshot wounds and two women were slightly injured when their vehicle was hit by the assailant’s car as he tried to flee.
The episode was the latest in a pattern of such attacks in an area that has been the site of numerous stabbing, car ramming and shooting assaults over the last year. At first, a witness said, the gunfire blended in with the hacking sound of road work, but passers-by soon started running in panic. The police released a photograph of the gunman’s car, a white sedan pockmarked with bullet holes.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel praised what he described as the “swift and determined action” of the police.
The Israeli police chief, Roni Alsheich, said that because of the heavy police deployment in the area, the entire event was over within three or four minutes.
Israeli security officials had forecast a new wave of violence around the period of the Jewish High Holy Days and coinciding with the first anniversary of the outbreak of Palestinian stabbings, shootings and car attacks. Most of these crimes have been committed by so-called lone wolves — Palestinians acting without the assistance of known Palestinian organizations and, in many cases, without any particular political affiliation.
The attacks had waned in recent months but surged, as if on cue, after the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha and in the prelude to the Jewish holidays, which began a week ago. In the last two weeks of September, the Israeli authorities reported about six stabbings or attempted stabbings and one car ramming in which eight Israeli soldiers and border police officers were injured. Five assailants were killed, among them a Jordanian visitor who was caught on security cameras lunging toward Israeli police officers with a knife at the Damascus Gate, one of the busiest entrances to the Old City in East Jerusalem.
Gilad Erdan, the public security minister, urged Israeli Jews on Sunday to continue to come to Jerusalem to perform the rituals traditionally performed at this time in the Hebrew calendar. A large gathering was expected at the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site in the Old City, on Monday night, with the chief rabbis of Israel scheduled to be in attendance. Mr. Erdan called on people to come and “show the accursed terrorists that they will not beat us.”
Since Oct. 1, 2014, about 40 Israelis and others, including two American visitors, have been killed as a result of the attacks. More than 230 Palestinians have been killed during the same period, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health — the majority of them while carrying out or attempting to carry out attacks, by Israel’s count.