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Jerusalem's Light Rail Was Once A Symbol, Now It's Become A Target

Eight people were injured and an 3-month-old girl was killed when a Palestinian motorist ran his car into the platform of the Jerusalem light rail. BuzzFeed News reports from the scene.

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JERUSALEM – On a street corner just opposite the wreckage where a car plowed into eight people on Wednesday, Mai Hussein clutched her baby and hoped for the best.

Hussein, who lives on the outskirts of the Shuafat neighborhood of East Jerusalem near where the attack happened, was worried that violence here could quickly spiral out of control.

"We just want to stop losing our children, our babies," said the mother of three. "I just want it to be quiet now."

On Wednesday, just after 6 p.m., a car turned sharply onto the tracks laid out for the city's Light Rail train, hitting eight people who had gathered on the platform. Israel's Minister of Interior Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch said the attack had "nationalistic motivations," adding that police believe the driver purposefully turned his car toward the crowd and sped up in order to hit as many of them as possible.

Video captured from a CCTV camera at the scene shows the car speeding up.

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A baby, aged 3 months, died as a result of injuries she sustained when being hit by the car, and eight others remained hospitalized Wednesday night. It was the most recent in a series of attacks — now known in Israel as "run-over terror attacks" — where motorists use their vehicles to try to injure and kill. For a city that is still dusting itself off from the ashes of protests that raged over the summer, it was a reminder that tensions were still simmering in the historic city.

"Every week it is something here, there is no quiet. People are angry, and people are worried," said Hussein, who decided to move her family to the north over the summer when violence that began with the killing of three Israeli teens led to the revenge killing of a local Palestinian youth, and eventually spiraled into a 50-day war that raged between Israel and Gaza. "Everyone feels like the city could explode."

Palestinian news outlets named the motorist behind the attacks Wednesday as Abd al-Rahman Shaloudi, a resident of Silwan who had recently been released from Israeli jail. AFP reported that he was the relative of Hamas official Muhi al-Din Sharif, who was killed in the West Bank city of Ramallah in 1998. One recent article cited a police raid on Shaloudi's home in Silwan that saw his family member's injured.

In Silwan, police reported that local youths were throwing rocks and blocking roads in protests that have been ongoing since last week, when a group of Jewish settlers moved into two homes in the largely Palestinian Silwan neighborhood.

"It feels like every other moment there is something, some event that provokes one side or another, the Jews or the Arabs," said Ayoub Hussein, Mai's Aunt. "It's like everyone wants to keep stirring the pot."

The two women watched police clean the wreckage of the car Wednesday night, and stood at a distance as reporters filed live shots of the scene. They wondered whether the light rail would be allowed to continue running through East Jerusalem.

"It changed the city for me, being able to easily go to work," said Mai Hussein, who works in Jerusalem's Malcha Shopping Mall on the western edge of the city.

When the light rail opened in December 2011, it was hailed by local politicians as a symbol of unity across the city, connecting east Jerusalem to the west. Much of its path followed the green line, drawn at the end of the 1948 war over Israel's declaration of a state, and dividing Jerusalem into the Palestinian east and Jewish west.

"I didn't think the light rail was a good idea when they built it, because I knew that something like this would happen," said Esther Maimon, a 52-year-old mother of five. "I knew people would attack it."

Her two daughters, she said, used the light rail every day to get to their jobs in different parts of the city.

"I'm not saying it's not a good system, it's just that there are too many problems in Jerusalem for a system like this to work," said Maimon. "The Palestinians don't want to let the city live in peace."

Hussein and her aunt claim it's them who want peace, while Jewish settler families "cause problems and stir up trouble by moving into our neighborhoods."

"They keep wanting to make problems, they stir people up and make them mad," said Mai Hussein.

"Nobody cares when it's our kids who get arrested or run over," said Ayoub Hussein, referring to 5-year-old Inas Khalil, who was killed over the weekend, when a Jewish settler hit her and her cousin. "The only way to keep our kids safe is to keep the at home, or leave this country."

As they spoke, a group of youths gathered near the sight of the crash and began throwing rocks at the empty platform and at police gathered nearby.

"You see? This is what happens. And then these boys will be arrested, and more parents will be without their children," said Ayoub Hussein.

By nightfall, the clashes had intensified.

"It will take time to repair the damage, to the area and, you know, for the people," said Moshe, a police officer who asked to give only his first name as he wasn't authorized to speak to journalists.

A video shot just past 10 p.m. showed small fires burning on the streets as shots ring out. The Jerusalem light rail, said local officials, would be shut down in that part of the city for the foreseeable future.

Sheera Frenkel is a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed News based in San Francisco. She has reported from Israel, Egypt, Jordan and across the Middle East. Her secure PGP fingerprint is 4A53 A35C 06BE 5339 E9B6 D54E 73A6 0F6A E252 A50F

Contact Sheera Frenkel at sheera.frenkel@buzzfeed.com.

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