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At least seven killed in attack in East Jerusalem

Jan. 27, 2023 Updated Fri., Jan. 27, 2023 at 8:45 p.m.

Palestinians celebrate in Gaza City on Friday after a shooting attack by a Palestinian gunman outside an East Jerusalem synagogue.  (Mahmud Hams)
Palestinians celebrate in Gaza City on Friday after a shooting attack by a Palestinian gunman outside an East Jerusalem synagogue. (Mahmud Hams)
By Patrick Kingsley and Jonathan Rosen New York Times

At least seven people were shot dead outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem on Friday night, in the deadliest attack in the city since 2008 and amid one of the bloodiest months in Israel and the occupied territories, outside of a full-scale war, for several years.

The killings, in a Jewish area of the city, were the latest escalation of a particularly violent cycle in the region, where the situation – never calm – began to worsen in the spring with a wave of lone Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

That sequence prompted the Israeli army to intensify its raids on Palestinian areas in the West Bank. The Israeli campaign led to the deaths of more than 170 Palestinians in 2022, the highest annual toll for more than 15 years, and has fueled an intense new wave of Palestinian anger and militancy.

The attack Friday came a day after the killing of nine Palestinians during an Israeli army raid in Jenin, in the occupied West Bank – the deadliest such raid in years.

This sharp rise in bloodshed has left Israelis and Palestinians across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza braced for the possibility of even greater conflagration. And it is all coming at the advent of a new Israeli government – the most right-wing in Israeli history – whose leading figures have promised to take even stronger action against Palestinians and asserted exclusive rights over land that Palestinians hoped would form the backbone of a future Palestinian state.

In the attack Friday, Israeli police said that a lone gunman started firing at people with a handgun about 8:15 p.m. outside a building used as a synagogue in Neve Yaakov, an Israeli settlement in the northern tip of East Jerusalem, an area captured by Israel in 1967 and later annexed.

Seven people were killed and three injured, according to police.

“One of the worst terror attacks we’ve encountered in recent years,” said Yaakov Shabtai, inspector general of the Israeli police, after arriving at the scene Friday night.

After the shootings, the attacker drove away in a car and was intercepted by a police squad about five minutes later, according to a police statement. The attacker was then shot dead by police after a brief chase and shootout.

Police later described the attacker as a 21-year-old resident of East Jerusalem who acted alone, but officials did not specify his ethnicity. Both Israeli and Palestinian media said he was Palestinian.

Five of the victims were already lying dead on the ground by the time paramedics from Magen David Adom, an emergency response group, arrived on the scene, and two more died after being taken to the hospital, according to a statement by the group.

“We arrived to the scene extremely quickly, and it was horrible,” said Shimon Alfasi, a paramedic from the group, according to the statement. “Injured people lying on the street at the Neve Yaakov boulevard. An unconscious 70-year-old woman suffering from gunshots.”

Shabtai described the attack as an act of terrorism. “He got out of his car not far from here and began a killing spree with a pistol,” he said at the scene. “Everyone who crossed his path – he shot at them from close range.”

The shootings occurred at the end of a particularly deadly month in the occupied West Bank. Since the start of the year, at least 30 Palestinians have been killed in the region in clashes with Israelis, mostly during Israeli military raids.

The Jenin raid Thursday, the deadliest such incursion for years, prompted the Palestinian Authority, the semi-autonomous body that administers major Palestinian cities in the territory, to announce that it was halting coordination with the Israeli security services in protest. That move, if fully implemented, would suspend the sharing of intelligence between the two sides and potentially contribute to a further rise in violence.

Officials from Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, praised the attack in Jerusalem on Friday night, portraying it as a response to the Israeli raid a day earlier.

Videos and photographs also showed Palestinians across the occupied territories celebrating the attack with cheers and fireworks.

Tensions in the region have risen sharply since the new Israeli coalition government took office in late December. An alliance of hard-line nationalists and ultraconservatives, the government declared in a list of its guiding principles that the Jewish people have the exclusive right to the occupied territories.

The government’s new minister for national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has set off particularly acute fears among Palestinians because of his frequent calls to give Israeli soldiers immunity from prosecution and further ease their rules of engagement. Until 2020, Ben-Gvir, who oversees police, hung a large portrait in his home of a Jewish gunman who shot dead 29 Palestinians in a West Bank mosque in 1994.

Arriving at the scene of the attack Friday, Ben-Gvir told bystanders that he wanted to allow more civilians to carry guns in order to prevent further attacks.

“Itamar, deal with them, Itamar!” shouted one bystander filmed by an Israeli broadcaster. “We elected you, Itamar. Had I been armed I would have prevented three or four people from being killed. I’m not armed. They won’t give me a gun.”

Ben-Gvir replied: “I hope that soon we’ll change the gun policy. More and more civilians need to have guns.”

He added: “The government needs to respond. With God’s help, I hope that that’s what happens.”

In some news broadcasts, bystanders could be heard chanting “Death to terrorists” and also “Death to Arabs.”

Elsewhere, the cycle of violence, punishment and retribution had already continued.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said Friday night that an Israeli settler had shot and injured a Palestinian, who was later taken to the hospital. Israeli police said they had arrested the parents of the shooter in Jerusalem.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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