Risk of escalation after deadly attack in East Jerusalem
Jan. 28, 2023 Updated Sat., Jan. 28, 2023 at 8:57 p.m.
TEL AVIV – Two Israelis were injured Saturday in a shooting in East Jerusalem, a day after a lethal shooting rampage at a Jerusalem synagogue, the latest in an escalating string of violence that threatens to plunge the region into a new round of bloodshed.
Israel’s emergency services said that they received a report of the shooting in Ma’alot Ir David, an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, at 10:42 a.m. on Saturday. The alleged shooter, a 13-year-old Palestinian from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, was apprehended by an armed civilian at the scene, according to the Israeli police. Earlier reports mistakenly said that the shooter was killed on-site.
Saturday’s shooting came a day after a Palestinian gunman killed seven people, including a 14-year-old boy, during Friday night prayer services outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem, spurring celebrations by Palestinians in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. On Saturday, Israeli authorities announced new anti-terrorism measures, as well as a loosening of restrictions on civilian gun ownership, but stopped short of retaliatory military strikes.
Meanwhile, details began to emerge about those who were killed in Friday’s attack, including a married couple in their 40s, Eli and Natalie Mizrahi. After hearing gunshots on the street, they left their Friday night dinner and went down to the street to offer help, Eli’s father, Shimon, told reporters near the site of the shooting.
“The terrorist was standing there and he took out his gun, shot them, got into his car and escaped,” he said.
Among the injured were a 60-year-old woman and a 15-year-old boy.
Friday’s attack was the deadliest on Israeli worshipers in years and put the region on the brink of a major escalation. On Thursday, an Israeli military raid killed nine Palestinians at a refugee camp in Jenin, the deadliest single operation in the West Bank in nearly two decades, Palestinian officials said. Early Friday, militants in Gaza fired rockets into Israel, which retaliated with airstrikes on the territory.
The clashes are an early test for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government, which came into power late last month planning to restrict minority rights, tighten the occupation of the West Bank and allow harsher treatment of Palestinians.
On Saturday night, far-right national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who rose from political obscurity by promising to enforce the death penalty for convicted Palestinian terrorists and enable Israeli soldiers to shoot at rock-throwing Palestinians, announced plans to seal and demolish the homes of assailants’ families and make it easier for Israeli citizens to obtain gun licenses. The measures, which are in line with previous Israeli responses to Palestinian attacks, are still pending approval by Israel’s attorney general.
In his televised remarks, Ben Gvir sought to preempt criticism that the policies didn’t go far enough and blamed the attorney general for not acting more quickly.
“In my opinion, it is terrible, this harms Israeli civilians,” he said.
Funerals for Friday’s shooting victims are slated to take place on Saturday evening after the end of Shabbat. Israeli military and police have been put on the highest possible alert level, requesting the public to report suspicious objects that could be a bomb, and boosting forces throughout East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel in anticipation of further violence. Israeli police said on Saturday that they had arrested 42 people in connection with Friday’s shooting.
The weekend shootings took place in East Jerusalem, a contested part of the city that Israel has controlled since its annexation in 1967 and which is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital. A previous Netanyahu government sought to evict a group of Palestinians from their East Jerusalem homes in favor of Jewish settlers, leading to a bloody 11-day confrontation in 2021 between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip.
The mass shooting was celebrated by Palestinians across East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza late Friday. A Twitter account affiliated with Hamas posted videos and photos of fireworks, horns honking, people cheering and handing out treats. On Saturday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, refused to condemn the attack in Jerusalem, saying Israel was “fully responsible for the dangerous escalation,” according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.
Hamas politician Mushir al-Masri commended the East Jerusalem attacker on Friday, saying the shooting was “a quick response” to the deadly Israeli military raid in Jenin the day before, and was “evidence of the vitality and readiness of the resistance.”
The suspected gunman has been identified as Khairi Alqam, a 21-year-old Palestinian from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of A-Tur, according to Israeli and Palestinian media. Alqam was named after his grandfather, who was fatally stabbed in 1998, allegedly by a Jewish attacker, the Israeli news site Ynet reported. Among those arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack was Chaim Perlman, a member of the violently anti-Arab “Kahana Chai” movement, who was detained for a month in 2010. After his release, Perlman was forbidden by security forces from contacting several right-wing activists, including former Kahanist Itamar Ben Gvir, now Israel’s national security minister.
Israeli police said that Alqam entered the synagogue in East Jerusalem neighborhood of Neve Yaakov at around 8:15 p.m. After opening fire at worshipers, police said he ran into the street, where he took shots at pedestrians. He tried to flee by car before Israeli security officers killed him at the scene. He is believed to have acted alone and has no criminal record.
U.S. officials on prearranged visits to the region must now navigate a moment of peril. CIA Director William J. Burns is in Israel this week and Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to visit Monday and Tuesday. Blinken will meet with Netanyahu in Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, the State Department said.
Blinken, who recently expressed concern that Netanyahu’s government could escalate conflict in the region, condemned the attacks on Friday “in the strongest terms.”
“The notion of people being targeted as they leave a house of worship is abhorrent,” he said, adding that it was “particularly tragic” that the attack happened on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In a call with Netanyahu on Friday, President Biden “made clear that this was an attack against the civilized world,” and stressed the “ironclad U.S. commitment to Israel’s security,” according to a White House readout.
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s chief diplomat, said Saturday the E.U. “fully recognizes Israel’s legitimate security concerns,” but urged restraint: “It has to be stressed that lethal force must only be used a last resort,” he said.
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