Police have not yet released the names of the victims. The U.K. Foreign Office confirmed Friday the sisters held British citizenship, in addition to Israeli.
“We are saddened to hear about the deaths of two British-Israeli citizens,” a spokesperson for the office said in a statement. “The UK calls for all parties across the region to de-escalate tensions.”
Israeli medics said they pronounced the sisters dead at the scene. A video shared by the Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency medical service, shows a white car that had driven off the road and appeared to have crashed into a tree. Two body bags could be seen several feet away.
The older woman was “suffering from severe multisystem injuries,” and they had airlifted her by helicopter to a hospital, the medics said in a statement.
By Friday night, the woman remained in critical condition and was undergoing operations at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, the Times of Israel reported, citing the country’s public broadcaster. Dozens of friends and family members gathered at the hospital.
In a visit to the scene Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to hunt down the attackers, whom he called in a statement “despicable and heartless terrorists.”
Netanyahu was accompanied by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on his visit to the site of the attack.
“Anyone who tries to turn Israel’s holiday into days of mourning will regret it greatly,” Gallant tweeted, referring to the Jewish holiday of Passover. He added that terrorists would end up in “the prison or the cemetery.”
Gallant ordered an increased security presence across the country. Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai called on licensed Israelis to carry their firearms in the wake of the attack, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
Israeli soldiers blocked roads around the scene and were searching for the perpetrators of the shooting, which they are treating as a terrorist attack, the Israel Defense Forces said on Twitter.
Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, praised the shooting in a statement, though it did not explicitly claim responsibility.
“We congratulate the Jordan Valley operation and warn the occupation against continuing its aggression against our Palestinian people and the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque,” the group said.
The shooting came after a night of violence, during which the Israeli military carried out airstrikes on Lebanon early Friday and continued attacks on the Gaza Strip in response to a barrage of rockets fired from south Lebanon toward northern Israel. The exchange of rocket fire followed two Israeli raids on al-Aqsa Mosque, on the sensitive religious site known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Police forced their way into the compound again around dawn Friday.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan coincided with the Jewish Passover holiday this week, an overlap Israeli security officials have long warned could lead to further escalation.
Political instability in Israel and increased violence in the West Bank have added to the combustible situation. Israeli forces have killed at least 81 Palestinians in the West Bank so far this year, including 16 minors, according to the latest figures from the United Nations. Before the killings Friday, at least 14 Israelis had been killed by Palestinians in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories this year.
A video shared by a reporter for Israel’s public broadcaster Friday showed teenagers lining a garden at the center of a traffic circle in Efrat, holding each other and singing a Passover song after hearing news of the attack.
“Horrified to see the deadly terror attack in the West Bank today, where a mother was critically injured, and her two daughters were killed,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said on Twitter on Friday. “Praying for peace as we continue to observe the holidays.”
Israeli opposition lawmakers expressed condolences to the victims and prayers for the injured. Right-wing lawmakers in the governing coalition called for a tougher response by the government in the Palestinian territories.
After the shooting, settlers blocked roads leading to Ramallah and to the Palestinian village of Huwara. The scenes resembled those from late February when, after two Israeli brothers were killed by a Palestinian gunman, settlers went on a retaliatory rampage through Huwara and surrounding communities, attacking Palestinians and setting fire to homes and businesses.
During that spasm of violence, settlers shot a 37-year-old Palestinian man, who died while his family tried to get him to a hospital because the Israeli military had blocked the road. Residents of Huwara blamed the Israeli military for not intervening. Palestinian families said that when they are the victims of violence, they have no one to protect them — and no real recourse for accountability.
Louisa Loveluck, Jesse Mesner-Hage, Adam Taylor and Sufian Taha contributed to this report.