Shooting follows deadly Thursday raid by Israel's military in occupied West Bank
Palestinian gunman kills 7 near East Jerusalem synagogue, Israeli officials say
A Palestinian gunman killed at least seven people and wounded three others after opening fire outside an East Jerusalem synagogue, according to Israeli authorities. Police said the shooter didn't have an organizational affiliation.
A Palestinian gunman opened fire outside an East Jerusalem synagogue Friday night, killing seven people, including a 70-year-old woman, and wounding three others before police shot and killed him, officials said. It was the deadliest attack on Israelis in years and raised the likelihood of further bloodshed.
The attack, which took place as worshippers were celebrating the Jewish Sabbath, came a day after an Israeli military raid killed nine people in the West Bank. The new attack set off public celebrations in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, where people fired guns into the air, honked car horns and distributed sweets.
The burst of violence, which also included a rocket barrage from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, has posed an early challenge for Israel's new government, which is dominated by ultra-nationalists who have pushed for a hard line against Palestinian violence.
It also cast a cloud over a visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken Sunday.
Addressing reporters at Israel's national police headquarters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had held a security assessment and decided on "immediate actions." He said he would convene his security cabinet on Saturday night, after the end of the Sabbath, to discuss a further response.
Netanyahu declined to elaborate but said Israel would act with "determination and composure." He called on the public not to take the law into their own hands.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the U.S. strongly condemned the attack and was "shocked and saddened by the loss of life," noting it came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
U.S. officials said later Friday that President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu to offer support to the government and people of Israel, calling the shootings "an attack against the civilized world."
"The president stressed the iron-clad U.S. commitment to Israel's security," the White House said of the call.
Israeli police said the attack occurred in Neve Yaakov, a Jewish area in East Jerusalem, and that the gunman fled in a car. Police said they chased after him and, after an exchange of fire, killed him.
Jerusalem police Chief Doron Turjeman told reporters the shooter was killed after trying to escape. He confirmed seven people had been killed, in addition to the shooter, and said three people were wounded.
Police identified the attacker as a 21-year-old East Jerusalem resident who apparently acted alone. Turjeman promised an "aggressive and significant" effort to track down anyone who had helped him.
Police also released a photo of the pistol they said the gunman used.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant huddled with Israel's military chief and other top security officials and instructed them to assist police and strengthen defences near Jerusalem and for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
1/4 Terror attack in Jerusalem: The initial investigation of the terrorist's identity suggests that he committed the terrorist attack by himself. Findings suggest that he is a 21 year old resident of East Jerusalem <a href="https://t.co/CD7fLudMLr">pic.twitter.com/CD7fLudMLr</a>
"Israel's defence establishment will operate decisively and forcefully against terror and will reach anyone involved in the attack," Gallant said.
Israel's MADA rescue service said the dead included a 70-year-old woman. Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital later said a 15-year-old boy was recovering from surgery.
The bloodshed was the deadliest on Israelis since a 2008 shooting killed eight people in a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem, according to Israel's Foreign Ministry.
Given the location and timing, it threatened to trigger a tough response from Israel.
No immediate claims of responsibility
Overnight Thursday, Gaza militants fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel, with all of them either intercepted or landing in open areas. Israel responded with a series of airstrikes on targets in Gaza. No casualties were reported. Earlier in the day, Gallant had ordered Israel to prepare for new action in Gaza "if necessary."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday's shooting.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said the attack was "a revenge and natural response" to the killing of nine Palestinians in Jenin on Thursday.
At several locations across the Gaza Strip, dozens of Palestinians gathered in spontaneous demonstrations to celebrate the Jerusalem attack, with some coming out of dessert shops with large trays of sweets to distribute.
In downtown Gaza City, celebratory gunfire could be heard, as cars honked and calls of "God is great!" wafted from mosque loudspeakers. In the West Bank town of Jericho, Palestinians launched fireworks and honked horns in celebration.
The attack escalated tensions that were already heightened following the deadly military raid in the West Bank town of Jenin — where nine people, including at least seven militants and a 61-year-old woman, were killed. It was the deadliest single raid in the West Bank in two decades. A 10th Palestinian was killed in separate fighting near Jerusalem.
Palestinians had marched in anger earlier Friday as they buried the last of the 10 Palestinians killed a day earlier.
Nine Palestinians killed in Israeli military raid in West Bank
Nine Palestinians have been killed during an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin. The Israeli military says its troops went in to arrest Islamic Jihad militants planning major attacks.
Scuffles between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters erupted after the funeral for a 22-year-old Palestinian north of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, but calm prevailed in the contested capital and in the blockaded Gaza Strip for most of the day.
But that suddenly dissolved with the East Jerusalem shooting, described as "horrific and heartbreaking" by Yair Lapid, the opposition leader and former prime minister.
Neve Yaakov is a religious Jewish settlement that Israel considers to be a neighbourhood of its capital. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as a capital of their future state.
U.S. hopes to defuse rising tensions
Blinken's trip is now likely to be focused heavily on lowering tensions in the region. He is likely to discuss the underlying causes of the conflict that continue to fester, the agenda of Israel's new far-right government and the Palestinian Authority's decision to halt security co-ordination with Israel in retaliation for the deadly raid.
The Biden administration has been deeply engaged with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in recent days, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said, underscoring the "urgent need here for all parties to de-escalate to prevent the further loss of civilian life and to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank."
While residents of Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank remained on edge earlier Friday, midday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, often a catalyst for clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, passed in relative calm.
Both the Palestinian rockets and Israeli airstrikes seemed limited so as to prevent growing into a full-blown war. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes since the militant group seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
Tensions have soared since Israel stepped up raids in the West Bank last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks. Jenin, which was an important militant stronghold during the 2000-2005 intifada and has again emerged as one, has been the focus of many of the Israeli operations.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem last year, making 2022 the deadliest in those territories since 2004, according to leading Israeli rights group B'Tselem. Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
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So far this year, 30 Palestinians have been killed, according to a count by The Associated Press.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed.
Anwar Gargash, a senior diplomat in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), warned that "the Israeli escalation in Jenin is dangerous and disturbing and undermines international efforts to advance the priority of the peace agenda."The U.A.E. recognized Israel's sovereignty and normalized relations with the country in 2020. Bahrain also did so then, but has remained silent on the surge in violence.
In the West Bank, Fatah announced a general strike and most shops were closed in Palestinian cities.
The Palestinian Authority said Thursday it would halt the ties that its security forces maintain with Israel in a shared effort to contain Islamic militants. Previous threats have been short-lived, in part because of the benefits the authority enjoys from the relationship, and also due to U.S. and Israeli pressure.
The Palestinian Authority has limited control over scattered enclaves in the West Bank, and almost none over militant strongholds like the Jenin camp.
Israel says its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. The Palestinians say they further entrench Israel's 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, which Israel captured along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians want those territories to form any eventual state.
Israel has established dozens of settlements in the West Bank that house 500,000 people. The Palestinians and much of the international community view settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace, even as talks to end the conflict have been moribund for over a decade.
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