JERUSALEM (AP) — A Palestinian gunman opened fire outside a synagogue in east Jerusalem Friday night, killing seven people, including a 70-year-old woman, and wounding three others before police killed him. shots, authorities said. It was the deadliest attack on Israelis in years and raised the likelihood of more bloodshed.
The attack on worshipers celebrating the Jewish Sabbath came a day after an Israeli military raid killed nine people in the West Bank. The new attack sparked celebrations in both the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where people fired weapons into the air, honked horns and distributed sweets.
The outbreak of violence, which also included a rocket barrage from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, posed an early challenge to Israel’s new government, which is dominated by ultranationalists who have pushed a hard line against Palestinian violence. It also cast a cloud over a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. to the region on Sunday.
Addressing reporters at the Israel National Police headquarters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had conducted a security assessment and decided on “immediate action.” He said he would convene his Security Cabinet on Saturday night, after the end of Saturday, 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 his hands.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the United States strongly condemned the attack and was “shocked and saddened by the loss of life”, noting that it came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
″The United States will give our full support to the government and people of Israel,” he said.
Israeli police said the shooting occurred in Neve Yaakov, a religious neighborhood in east Jerusalem with a large ultra-Orthodox population, and that the attacker fled in a car after opening fire. Police said they chased him and after an exchange of fire, they killed him.
Jerusalem Police Chief Doron Turjeman confirmed seven deaths, in addition to the shooter, and said three people were injured.
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 helped him.
Police also released a photo of the gun they said the attacker used.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met with Israel’s military chief and other top security officials and instructed them to help police and strengthen defenses near Jerusalem and Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“Israel’s defense establishment will operate decisively and forcefully against terrorism and will reach out to anyone involved in the attack,” Gallant said.
Israel’s MADA rescue service said the dead included a 70-year-old woman. Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem later said a 15-year-old boy was recovering from surgery.
The bloodshed was the deadliest for Israelis since a 2008 shooting that killed eight people at a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem, according to the Foreign Ministry. Given the location and timing, it threatened to trigger a harsh response from Israel.
Overnight on Thursday, Gaza militants fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel, all of which were intercepted or landed in open areas. Israel responded with airstrikes against targets in Gaza. No casualties were reported and calm appeared to be taking hold ahead of the Friday night shooting.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the shooting. In Gaza, Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the ruling Hamas militant group, said the attack was “retaliation and a natural response” to the killing of nine Palestinians in Jenin on Thursday.
At various locations in the Gaza Strip, dozens of Palestinians gathered in spontaneous demonstrations to celebrate the attack on Jerusalem, some emerging from dessert shops with large trays of sweets to distribute.
In the center of Gaza City, celebratory gunshots could be heard, as cars honked and shouted “God is great!” floated from the loudspeakers of the mosque. In several West Bank towns, Palestinians set off fireworks and honked their horns in celebration.
The attack intensified tensions that had already escalated following Thursday’s military raid on the West Bank city of Jenin, which 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 tenth Palestinian was killed in separate fighting near Jerusalem.
Angry Palestinians had marched on Friday as they buried the last ones killed the day before.
Fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters broke out after the funeral of a 22-year-old Palestinian north of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, but calm prevailed in the disputed capital and in the blockaded Gaza Strip for most of the day.
But all of that quickly dissolved with the shooting in East Jerusalem, described as “horrific and heartbreaking” by Yair Lapid, the opposition leader and former prime minister.
Neve Yaakov is a religious Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem that Israel considers a neighborhood of its capital. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Blinken’s trip will likely now be largely focused on de-escalating tensions. He is likely to discuss the underlying causes of the conflict that continues to fester, the agenda of Israel’s new far-right government and the Palestinian Authority’s decision to halt security coordination with Israel in retaliation for the deadly attack.
The Biden administration has been deeply engaged with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in recent days, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, stressing the “urgent need here for all parties to de-escalate to prevent further loss of civilian life and work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.”
While residents of Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank were on edge, Friday noon prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, often a catalyst for clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, passed in relative calm.
Both Palestinian rockets and Israeli airstrikes seemed limited to prevent it from escalating into a full-blown war. 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 soared since Israel stepped up raids on the West Bank last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks. Jenin, which was a major militant stronghold during the 2000-2005 intifada and has re-emerged as such, 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 territories. since 2004, according to the prominent Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
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 young people protesting the raids and others not involved in the fighting have also been killed.
Anwar Gargash, a senior diplomat from the United Arab Emirates, warned that “the Israeli escalation in Jenin is dangerous and disturbing and undermines international efforts to advance the priority peace agenda.” The United Arab Emirates 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 closed in Palestinian cities. The Palestinian Authority said Thursday it would stop ties its security forces maintain with Israel in a shared effort to contain Islamic militants. Previous threats have been short-lived, partly because of the benefits the authority enjoys from the relationship, and also because of pressure from the US and Israel.
The Palestinian Authority has limited control over scattered West Bank enclaves and almost none over militant strongholds such as the Jenin camp.
Israel says its raids are aimed at dismantling militant networks and thwarting attacks. The Palestinians say they are further entrenching 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 those territories to form any state. eventual.
Israel has established dozens of settlements in the West Bank that are home to 500,000 people. The Palestinians and much of the international community view the settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace, even as talks to end the conflict have been moribund for more than a decade.
Associated Press journalist Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.