Bodies lie in the streets of Jerusalem after synagogue ‘terror’ attack: Netanyahu visits site of gun rampage where Palestinian killed seven before he was shot dead by Israeli police as regional tensions mount
A Palestinian gunman killed at least seven people and wounded three others in a synagogue on the outskirts of Jerusalem on Friday in an attack that heightened fears of a spiral in violence, a day after the deadliest Israeli raid in the West Bank in years. Police said the gunman arrived at around 8.15 p.m. and opened fire, hitting a number of people before he was killed by police. TV footage showed several victims lying in the road outside the synagogue being tended to by emergency workers.
The attack, which police described as a ‘terrorist incident,’ underlined fears of an escalation in violence after months of clashes in the West Bank culminating in an Israeli raid in Jenin on Thursday that killed at least nine Palestinians. A police spokesman said the death toll stands at seven, with others injured. The gunman was shot and killed at the scene. The Magen David Adom emergency response service reported a total of 10 gunshot victims, including a 70-year-old and a 14-year-old boy. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir – leader of one of the hardline nationalist parties in Netanyahu’s new government – visited the site of the attack and were greeted with a mixture of cheers and boos.
‘I heard a lot of bullets,’ Matanel Almalem, an 18-year-old student who lives near the synagogue, told AFP. Israel’s extreme-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir attended the scene shortly after, an AFP photographer reported. Police were dismantling a white vehicle believed to have belonged to the shooter. There was no initial claim of responsibility for the attack, which took place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, but a spokesman for the Islamist movement Hamas said the attack was connected with the Jenin raid.
‘This operation is a response to the crime conducted by the occupation in Jenin and a natural response to the occupation criminal actions,’ Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said. The smaller militant group Islamic Jihad also praised the attack without claiming responsibility. The United States meanwhile condemned the ‘absolutely horrific’ attack. ‘Our commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad, and we are in direct touch with our Israeli partners,’ State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters. Just hours earlier, Washington had urged ‘de-escalation’ over the West Bank violence and Gaza rocket fire. Pictured: Israeli border police clash with Palestinian stone throwers in A-Ram town, north of Jerusalem, 27 January 2023.
Palestinian officials said CIA director William Burns, who was visiting Israel and the West Bank on a trip arranged before the latest violence, would meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday. No comment was immediately available from U.S. officials in Jerusalem. British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly described the attack as ‘appalling’, adding that Britain ‘stands with our Israeli friends.’ Palestinians had earlier marched in anger as they buried the last of 10 people killed by Israeli fire on Thursday, but the likelihood of a major conflagration had appeared to ebb after the deadliest Israeli raid in two decades. 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. Pictured: Israeli security forces search a car at the site of a reported attack in a settler neighborhood of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, on January 27, 2023.
Thursday’s raid in the Jenin refugee camp descended into a gun battle that killed at least nine Palestinians, while clashes elsewhere left a 10th dead. Gaza militants then fired rockets and Israel carried out air strikes overnight, but the exchange was limited, following a familiar pattern that allows both sides to respond without leading to a major flare-up. Israel’s defense minister instructed the military to prepare for new strikes in the Gaza Strip ‘if necessary’ – also appearing to leave open the possibility that violence would subside. While residents of Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank remained on edge on Friday, midday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, often a catalyst for clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, passed in relative calm. At the funeral of the 22-year-old, crowds of Palestinians waved the flags of Fatah, the party that controls the Palestinian Authority, and militant Hamas, which rules Gaza.
In the streets of the town called al-Ram, masked Palestinians threw stones and set off fireworks at Israeli police, who responded with tear gas. But the Palestinian rockets and Israeli air strikes seemed limited 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. The Palestinians’ rockets were fired toward southern Israel, while Israel’s non-lethal air strikes were on targets in Gaza, such as training camps and an underground rocket-manufacturing site. Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant claimed the military dealt a ‘tough blow’ to Palestinian militants in Gaza and said the army was preparing to strike ‘high-quality targets… until peace is restored to the citizens of Israel.’
Israeli police were out in force in Jerusalem as scores of Muslim worshippers gathered for prayers in the stone courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and chanted in solidarity with those killed in the Jenin raid. Tensions at the holy site, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, have triggered violence in the past, including a bloody Gaza war in 2021. The site is considered the third-most sacred in Islam and the holiest place in Judaism. 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 2000-05 intifada and has again emerged as one, has been the focus of many of the Israeli operations. Among the dead in Thursday’s raid were seven militants and a 61-year-old woman.
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 Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against 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 youths protesting against the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed.
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