Israel’s military said it was boosting its forces in the occupied West Bank a day after a Palestinian gunman shot dead seven people on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and another shooting attack in the city on Saturday wounded two people.
The attacks come towards the end of a month of growing confrontation and follow an Israeli raid in the West Bank that killed nine Palestinians, including seven gunmen, and cross-border fire between Israel and Gaza that heightened fears of a spiral in bloodshed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new cabinet, which includes hardline nationalist parties that have called for stronger action against Palestinians, was due to meet later on Saturday.
Friday’s attack outside a synagogue was the deadliest in the city area since 2008. The gunman, Khairi Alqam, was a 21-year-old Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, according to police. He struck in an area that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after the 1967 war.
Police said he had tried to flee by car but was pursued by officers and shot dead. Forty-two suspects, including members of the gunman’s family, had been arrested, the police said.
On Saturday, police said a 13-year-old boy from East Jerusalem opened fire and wounded two people before he was shot and wounded by passers-by.
That incident took place around Silwan, a Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem that lies below the Old City walls and where Israeli settlers have stepped up their presence over the past few years.
The attacks underlined the potential for an escalation in violence after months of clashes in the West Bank culminating in a raid in Jenin on Thursday that killed at least nine Palestinians, the deadliest such raid in years.
“Following an IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) situational assessment, it was decided to reinforce the Judea and Samaria (West Bank) Division with an additional battalion,” the military said.
On Friday night far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited the site of the attack, where he was greeted with a mixture of cheers and anger. “The government has to respond, God willing this is what will happen,” he said.
Netanyahu urged people not to take the law into their own hands but said measures had been decided.
Friday’s shooting, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, was condemned by the White House and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who urged “utmost restraint”. It came days before a planned visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Israel and the West Bank.
Jordan and Egypt, Arab countries that have signed peace treaties with Israel, condemned the shooting as did the United Arab Emirates, one of several Arab states that normalised relations with Israel just over two years ago.
Lebanon’s Iran-backed group Hezbollah praised the attack and a spokesman for the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas hailed it as “a response to the crime conducted by the occupation in Jenin and a natural response to the occupation’s criminal actions”.
The smaller militant group Islamic Jihad also praised the attack without claiming responsibility.
Illustrating the simmering violence, the Palestinian health ministry said on Friday three Palestinians were taken to hospital after being shot by an Israeli settler in an incident near the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
SCENE AT SYNAGOGUE
Police said the gunman in the Friday attack in Jerusalem arrived at 8:15 p.m. and opened fire with a handgun, hitting a number of people before he was killed by police.
Shimon Israel, 56, who lives nearby, said his family were starting their Sabbath dinner when they heard shooting and screaming. He opened the window and saw his neighbour running on the street to get the police.
“I told him ‘Eli, don’t go there. Eli don’t go.’ He got married only a year ago. A good neighbour, like a brother. He ran. I saw him fall there,” Israel told Reuters.
“Natali, his wife, ran after him. She saw someone here and was trying to resuscitate him. The terrorist came and shot her from behind and got her too,” he said.
Earlier on Friday, militants in Gaza fired rockets at Israel, causing no casualties but drawing air strikes by Israeli jets, which struck targets in the blockaded coastal strip controlled by Hamas.
Violence in the West Bank surged after a spate of lethal attacks in Israel last year. The latest season of violence began under the previous coalition government and has continued under Netanyahu’s right-wing administration, which includes parties that want to expand settlements in the West Bank.
Before Friday’s shooting, at least 30 Palestinians – militants and civilians – had been killed this year and the Palestinian Authority, which has limited governing powers in the West Bank, said it was suspending a security cooperation arrangement with Israel.