Seven Israelis killed leaving synagogue in East Jerusalem
By Bethan McKernan in Jerusalem,2023-01-28
Seven Israelis have been shot and killed as they left a synagogue in East Jerusalem, in the latest episode of spiralling violence across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories over the past two days.
A gunman in a car waited on Friday night until Shabbat prayers ended at a synagogue in Neve Yaakov, a neighbourhood of Israeli settlers in occupied East Jerusalem, before opening fire on people as they left the building, a preliminary Israeli police probe said. The attack came on International Holocaust Remembrance day.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said medics declared five people dead at the scene and said that two more died while being treated in hospital. The death toll was revised down from eight to seven, and at least nine more victims are understood to be in critical condition.
Addressing reporters at Israel’s national police headquarters, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had held a security assessment and that Israel would take immediate action with “determination and composure”, without giving further details. He called on the public not to take the law into their own hands.
Television footage showed bodies strewn around the street, while police and ambulance sirens blared across Jerusalem late into the night.
Israel’s Channel 12 news reported that the gunman first attacked an elderly woman and a man on a motorbike before approaching the synagogue, although police did not immediately confirm those details.
The attacker was shot and killed by officers while trying to flee, police said. Police said he was a resident of East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967.
Arabic and Hebrew media reports identified him as a 21-year-old who did not have a security record.
Friday night’s shooting was the worst terrorist attack on Israelis in years, and came a day after the deadliest Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank in two decades , in which nine Palestinians were killed.
The raid on Thursday morning targeted Islamic Jihad militants in the Jenin refugee camp, in the north of the Palestinian territory, triggering tit-for-tat rocket fire between the Gaza Strip and Israel in the early hours of Friday and sparking fears of a wider escalation in the decades-long conflict.
Friday prayers at Jerusalem’s holy al-Aqsa mosque in the Temple Mount complex – often a catalyst for violence – passed without incident before the evening shooting.
Israel’s police commissioner, Kobi Shabtai, told reporters that it was believed the attacker acted alone, but officers were searching the area to rule out the possibility of accomplices.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the shooting, although a spokesperson for Hamas, the armed Palestinian movement in control of the Gaza Strip, said that the attack was connected to the Jenin raid.
The synagogue attack was a “natural response to the occupation’s criminal actions,” Hazem Qassem said. The smaller Gaza-based militant group, Islamic Jihad, also praised the attack without claiming responsibility.
Last year was the bloodiest in Israel and the West Bank since 2004, with about 150 Palestinians and 30 Israelis killed. Another 49 Palestinians died in the Gaza Strip in a three-day surprise Israeli bombing campaign in August.
So far this month, 32 Palestinians have been killed.
Late on Friday unconfirmed reports emerged that an Israeli settler in the West Bank had shot and injured four Palestinians in the town of Beita, near Nablus. One person was reported to be in critical condition.
President Joe Biden spoke to Netanyahu to offer US support to the government and people of Israel, calling the shootings “an attack against the civilised world”, officials said. “The president stressed the iron-clad US commitment to Israel’s security,” the White House said of the call.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is due to travel to the region this weekend, said: “The United States condemns in the strongest terms the horrific terrorist attack. We are in close contact with our Israeli partners and reaffirm our unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”
The US state department, along with the UN and other international mediators, called on both sides to de-escalate the situation.
A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “It is particularly abhorrent that the attack occurred at a place of worship, and on the very day we commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day.”
The UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, described the attack as “horrific,” adding: “We stand with our Israeli friends.”
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