By ISABEL DEBRE (Associated Press)
JERUSALEM (AP) — A Palestinian gunman opened fire outside an east Jerusalem synagogue Friday night, killing six people and wounding four others in one of the deadliest attacks on Israelis in years, medical officials said. The attack was halted when the gunman was shot by police.
The killings took place a day after Israeli troops killed nine Palestinians in a raid in the West Bank and raised the likelihood of further bloodshed.
The violence posed a challenge for Israel’s new hard-line government and cast a cloud over a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region Sunday. 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 coordination with Israel in retaliation for the deadly raid.
The Israeli rescue service MADA initially confirmed five deaths and said the wounded included a 70-year-old woman in critical condition and a 14-year-old boy in serious condition. A hospital later said a sixth person had died.
Police said the gunman was “neutralized,” a term that typically means he was killed. There was no official confirmation, however.
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. Similar celebrations were reported in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
The attack came amid heightened tensions. Palestinians marched in anger Friday as they buried the last of 10 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire a day earlier.
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.
Thursday’s raid in the flashpoint Jenin refugee camp descended into a gunbattle that killed at least nine Palestinians, while clashes elsewhere left a 10th dead. Gaza militants then fired rockets and Israel carried out airstrikes overnight — but the exchange was limited.
The Biden administration has been deeply engaged with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in recent days, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, underscoring the “urgent need here for all parties to deescalate to prevent the further loss of civilian life and to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.”
“We’re certainly deeply concerned by this escalating cycle of violence in the West Bank as well as the rockets that have been apparently fired from Gaza,” Kirby said. “And of course, we condemn all acts that only further escalate tensions.”
Israel’s defense minister, meanwhile, 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 earlier 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 both 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 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.
Friday night’s shooting, come on the Jewish sabbath, immediately changed the equation.
Israel’s opposition leader, former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, called it “horrific and heartbreaking.”