Saturday’s shooting came a day after a Palestinian gunman killed seven people — including children — during prayer services at a synagogue in East Jerusalem on Friday night, as Palestinians took to the streets in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank to celebrate and Israeli leaders willing to meet and finalize an answer.
Friday’s attack was the deadliest on Israeli believers in years, and came as the region threatened to spiral into a vortex of escalation. On Thursday, an Israeli military raid killed at least nine Palestinians in a refugee camp in Jenin, in what was the deadliest operation in the West Bank in nearly two decades, Palestinian officials said. And early Friday, militants in Gaza fired rockets at Israel, launching airstrikes on the territory.
The clashes are an early test for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government, which came to power late last month and plans to curtail minority rights and allow harsher treatment of Palestinians. Netanyahu said on Friday that his security cabinet will meet on Saturday night, and that his government had already decided what immediate action it would take.
The funerals for the victims of Friday’s shooting will take place on Saturday night after the end of Shabbat. They will come as the Israeli army and police operate at the highest possible alert level, requesting the public to report suspicious objects that could be a bomb, and have reinforced armed forces throughout East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel in anticipation of a continuation of clashes. . Israeli police said on Saturday they had arrested 42 people in connection with the shooting.
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The Friday and Saturday shootings took place in a disputed region of East Jerusalem, which Israel has controlled since its annexation in 1967 and is claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of a future state. A previous Netanyahu administration attempted to evict a group of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem in favor of Jewish settlers, sparking a bloody 11-day standoff between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip.
After Friday night’s shooting, Israeli officials issued mixed messages. While Netanyahu promised a response, he also urged ordinary Israelis “not to take the law into their own hands.” But his far-right security minister Itamar Ben Gvir suggested the government relax gun regulations for civilians, and his supporters gathered in the synagogue chanting: “Death to the terrorists.”
Meanwhile, celebrations of the massacre erupted in towns and villages in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. A Twitter account affiliated with Hamas posted videos of fireworks, honking horns, people cheering and pictures of Palestinians handing out treats.
Hamas politician Mushir al-Masri congratulated the attacker in East Jerusalem on Friday, saying the shooting was “a rapid response” to the deadly Israeli military strike in Jenin the day before, and was “a testament to the vitality and preparedness of the resistance”.
The suspected gunman, who was killed at the scene by security forces, was identified by Israeli police as a 21-year-old Palestinian man from East Jerusalem. He would have acted alone and has no criminal record.
US officials who went to the region found themselves in the midst of tensions. 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 Friday’s attacks “in the strongest terms”.
“The idea of people being targeted when they leave a place of worship is appalling,” he said, adding that it was “particularly tragic” that the attack happened on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In a phone call with Netanyahu on Friday, President Biden “made it clear that this was an attack on the civilized world,” and emphasized the “U.S. ironclad commitment to the security of Israel,” according to a White House reading.
Israeli police said the gunman entered the synagogue in East Jerusalem’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood at around 8:15 p.m. After opening fire on believers, he ran into the street, where he fired on pedestrians. He attempted to flee by car before Israeli security agents killed him on the spot. The shooter’s name has not yet been released.
Ables reported from Seoul.