Palestinian gunman kills 7 near Jerusalem synagogue | World News
JERUSALEM (AP) — A Palestinian gunman opened fire outside a synagogue in east Jerusalem on Friday night, killing seven people including a 70-year-old woman and wounding three others before being shot dead by police, officials said. It was the deadliest attack on Israelis in years, increasing the likelihood of more bloodshed.
The attack, which took place as local residents were celebrating the Jewish Sabbath, came a day after an Israeli military attack killed nine people in the West Bank. The shooting sparked celebrations in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, with people firing guns in the air, honking horns and handing out candy.
The outbreak of violence, which included rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli retaliation, posed an early challenge for Israel’s new government, which is dominated by ultranationalists who are being urged to take a hard line against Palestinian violence. It also threw a cloud over a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region on Sunday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters at Israel Police Headquarters that he had conducted a security assessment and decided on “immediate action.” He said he will convene his Security Cabinet Saturday night after the end of the Sabbath to discuss another response.
Netanyahu declined to elaborate, but said Israel will act with “determination and composure.” He urged the public not to take the law into their own hands.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the US strongly condemned the attack and was “shocked and saddened by the loss of life”.
“The United States will extend our full support to the government and people of Israel,” she said.
Israel Police said the shooting took place in Neve Yaakov, a religious neighborhood in east Jerusalem with a large ultra-Orthodox population, and that the gunman fled in a car after opening fire. Police said they gave chase and killed him after an exchange of gunfire.
Jerusalem Police Chief Doron Turjeman confirmed seven dead alongside the gunman and said three people were injured.
Police identified the attacker as a 21-year-old East Jerusalem resident who appeared to be acting alone. Turjeman promised an “aggressive and significant” effort to track down anyone who helped him.
Police also released a photo of the pistol they said was used by the attacker.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant huddled with Israel’s military chief and other senior security officials, ordering them to help police and strengthen defenses near Jerusalem and for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“Israel’s Defense Institute will take decisive and forceful action against terrorism and will reach out to anyone involved in the attack,” Gallant said.
The Israeli rescue service MADA said five men and two women were among the dead, including several who were 60 years of age or older. Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital said a 15-year-old boy is recovering from surgery.
The bloodshed was the deadliest for Israelis since a shooting in 2008 that killed eight people at a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem, according to the State Department. Given the place and timing, it threatened to provoke a harsh response from Israel.
On Thursday night, militants from the Gaza Strip fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel, all of which were either intercepted or landed in open areas. Israel responded with airstrikes on targets in Gaza. No casualties were reported and calm appeared to fall before Friday night’s shooting.
There was no immediate admission of responsibility for the shooting. In Gaza, Hazem Qassem, spokesman for the ruling militant group Hamas, said the attack was “revenge and a natural response” to the killing of nine Palestinians in Jenin on Thursday.
In several places in Gaza, dozens of Palestinians gathered in impromptu demonstrations to celebrate the attack in Jerusalem, with some coming out of dessert shops with large trays of sweets to hand out.
Solemn gunfire was heard in downtown Gaza City as cars honked their horns and shouted “God is great!” came from mosque loudspeakers. In various West Bank cities, Palestinians set off firecrackers and honked their horns in celebration.
The attack escalated tensions already heightened after Thursday’s military attack in the West Bank city of Jenin that killed nine people, including at least seven militants and a 61-year-old woman. It was the deadliest single attack in the West Bank in two decades. A 10th Palestinian was killed in separate fighting near Jerusalem.
Angry Palestinians demonstrated on Friday as they buried the last of those killed a day earlier.
After the funeral of a 22-year-old Palestinian, scuffles broke out between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters north of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, but calm reigned in the embattled capital and blockaded Gaza for most of the day.
But all of that quickly unraveled with the shooting in east Jerusalem, which was described as “terrifying and heartbreaking” by Yair Lapid, the opposition leader and former prime minister.
Neve Yaakov is a religious Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, which Israel considers a borough of its capital. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians aspire to East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Blinken’s journey now will likely focus heavily on defusing tensions. He is likely to discuss the root causes of the conflict that continue to fester, the agenda of Israel’s new far-right government, and the Palestinian Authority’s decision to end security coordination with Israel in retaliation for the deadly raid.
The Biden administration has engaged intensively with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in recent days, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, underscoring the “urgent need for all parties to de-escalate here to stop the further loss of civilians.” prevent, and work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.”
While residents of Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank were nervous, Friday’s midday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, often a catalyst for clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, passed relatively calmly.
Both Palestinian missiles and Israeli airstrikes appeared to be limited to prevent them from growing into full-blown wars. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several minor skirmishes since the militant group seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
Tensions have risen since Israel stepped up crackdowns in the West Bank following a spate of Palestinian attacks last spring. Jenin, which was and has emerged as a major and militant stronghold during the 2000-05 Intifada, has been the focus of many Israeli operations.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem last year, making 2022 the deadliest in those areas since 2004, according to leading Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
According to a count by The Associated Press, 30 Palestinians have been killed so far this year.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youth protesting against the raids and others not involved in the clashes were also killed.
Anwar Gargash, a senior diplomat in the United Arab Emirates, warned that “the Israeli escalation in Jenin is dangerous and troubling and undermines international efforts to advance the peace agenda priority.” The UAE recognized Israel in 2020 along with Bahrain, which has remained silent on the rise in violence.
In the West Bank, Fatah announced a general strike and most shops were closed in Palestinian cities. The PA said Thursday it would cut its security forces’ ties to Israel in a joint effort to contain Islamist militants. Previous threats have been short-lived, in part because of the benefits the agency enjoys from the relationship and also because of pressure from the US and Israel.
The PA has limited control over scattered West Bank enclaves and almost none over militant strongholds like the Jenin camp.
Israel says its crackdowns serve to disrupt militant networks and thwart attacks. The Palestinians say they are further cementing Israel’s 55-year, indefinite occupation of the West Bank, which Israel captured along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East War. The Palestinians want these areas to form a state at some point.
Israel has built dozens of settlements in the West Bank, housing 500,000 people. The Palestinians and much of the international community view settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace, even though talks to end the conflict have been dead for over a decade.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed.