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Seven killed in synagogue attack as West Bank violence spirals

2023-01-27T20:08:45Z

Israeli jets struck Gaza overnight on Friday in retaliation for two rockets fired by Palestinian militants, further escalating tensions after one of the worst days of violence in the occupied West Bank in years. Lucy Fielder has more.

A gunman killed at least seven people and wounded 10 others in a synagogue on the outskirts of Jerusalem on Friday in an attack that heightened fears of a spiral in violence, a day after the deadliest Israeli raid in the West Bank in years.

Police said the gunman arrived at around 8.15 p.m. and opened fire, hitting a number of people before he was killed by police. TV footage showed several victims lying in the road outside the synagogue being tended to by emergency workers.

The attack, which police described as a “terrorist incident”, underlined fears of an escalation in violence after months of clashes in the West Bank culminating in a raid on Thursday that killed at least nine Palestinians.

There was no initial claim of responsibility for the synagogue attack, which took place as worshippers attended Sabbath services on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, but a spokesman for the Islamist movement Hamas said the incidents were connected.

“This operation is a response to the crime conducted by the occupation in Jenin and a natural response to the occupation criminal actions,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said. The smaller militant group Islamic Jihad also praised the attack without claiming responsibility.

Israeli media said the gunman was a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem but there was no official confirmation.

Israel’s foreign office said seven people had been killed but the ambulance service put the number of dead at five.

In Gaza, news of the attack brought spontaneous rallies to the streets accompanied by an outbreak of celebratory gunfire.

Friday’s shooting came days before a planned visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Israel and the West Bank. The State Department issued a statement condemning the attack and said there were no changes to Blinken’s travel plans.

Earlier on Friday, Israeli jets struck Gaza in retaliation for rocket attacks which set off alarms in Israeli communities near the border with the blockaded southern coastal strip that is controlled by Hamas.

In August, Israeli jets bombed targets in Gaza associated with the group during a weekend confrontation that saw hundreds of Islamic Jihad rockets launched against Israel, most of which were intercepted by air defence systems.

The months of violence in the West Bank, which surged after a spate of lethal attacks in Israel last year, have drawn fears the already unpredictable conflict may spiral out of control, triggering a broader confrontation between Palestinians and Israel.

The latest season of violence began under the previous coalition government and has continued following the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing administration which includes ultra-nationalist parties that want to expand settlements in the West Bank.

Following Thursday’s raid the Palestinian Authority, which has limited governing powers in the West Bank, said it was suspending a security cooperation arrangement with Israel.

In Jenin refugee camp, a densely packed mass of buildings and alleyways that has been a centre of militant activity and the target of repeated Israeli raids, residents said Thursday’s operation had penetrated unusually deeply into the camp.

A two-storey building at the centre of the fighting was heavily damaged and nearby houses were tainted black from smoke. In another area around the camp’s community centre, cars had been crushed by Israeli bulldozers used in the operation.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement on Thursday saying it was deeply concerned with the violence in the West Bank and urged both sides to de-escalate the conflict.

The United Nations, Egypt and Qatar have also urged calm, Palestinian officials said.

Palestinian officials said CIA director William Burns, who was visiting Israel and the West Bank on a trip arranged before the latest violence, would meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday. No comment was immediately available from U.S. officials in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu, who returned to power this year at the head of one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history, said Israel was not looking to escalate the situation, although he ordered security forces to be on alert.

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Israeli forces work near the scene of a shooting attack in Neve Yaacov which lies on occupied land that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East war January 27, 2023. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

SENSITIVE MATERIAL. THIS IMAGE MAY OFFEND OR DISTURB A covered body is seen at the scene of a shooting attack in Neve Yaacov which lies on occupied land that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East war, January 27, 2023. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

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