Israeli army reinforces in West Bank after synagogue shooting

The Israeli military was sending more troops into 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.

Reuters | Updated: 29-01-2023 01:38 IST | Created: 29-01-2023 00:09 IST
Israeli army reinforces in West Bank after synagogue shooting
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Israeli military was sending more troops into 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 took place 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet was due to meet later on Saturday. Friday's attack outside a synagogue was the deadliest in the Jerusalem area since 2008. The gunman, Khaire Alkam, was a 21-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem. Among the dead was a 14-year-old boy, police said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the shooting and Alkam's father told Reuters his son had no links to militants. He struck in an area that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after capturing it in the 1967 Middle East war in a move not recognised internationally. Police said he had tried to flee by car but was chased by officers and shot dead. Forty-two suspects, including his family members, had been arrested, police said.

On Saturday, police said a 13-year-old Palestinian boy opened fire at a group of passers-by, wounding two people, before he was shot and wounded by one of them. That incident took place around Silwan, a Palestinian neighbourhood that lies below Jerusalem's Old City walls.

The attacks underline the potential for an intensification in violence after months of worsening clashes in the West Bank. At least 30 Palestinians - militants and civilians - have been killed there since the start of 2023. The raid by Israeli forces in Jenin on Thursday was the deadliest such incident there in years.

Israel's military said on Saturday it was sending an additional battalion into the West Bank. "The region is heading for an uprecedented escalation," said Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip.

Visiting a Jerusalem hospital treating casualties, Israel's far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said he would seek to increase the number of gun permits. "I want weapons on the street. I want Israeli citizens to be able to protect themselves," he said. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the pro-settler Religious Zionism party, said he would demand speeding up Israeli settlement construction plans in the West Bank, which his party hopes to eventually see annexed.

Both Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are members of Netanyahu's security cabinet but there was no indication that he would meet their demands, some of which have been made in the past. SCENE AT SYNAGOGUE

Police said the gunman in Friday's attack 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.

The gunman was a relative of a 17-year-old Palestinian who was shot dead on Wednesday in clashes with Israeli forces in a Jerusalem refugee camp, his family said. His father, Moussa Alkam, said he did not know whether his son was seeking revenge. "He is neither the first nor the last young man to get martyred and what he did is a source of pride," Alkam said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made no mention of the shootings in a statement published by the official Palestinian agency WAFA, and blamed Israel for the escalation in violence. Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which has limited governing powers in the West Bank, suspended security cooperation arrangements with Israel after the deadly Jenin raid.

CONDEMNATION Friday's shooting, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, was condemned by the White House and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who urged "utmost restraint". It came days before a planned visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Israel and the West Bank.

A Ukrainian woman was among the dead, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in Kyiv. 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.

Saudi Arabia, which does not have formal ties with Israel, condemned the targeting of civilians and said there was a need to halt an escalation in violence. Lebanon's Iran-backed group Hezbollah praised the attack and Hamas hailed it as a response to Thursday's Jenin raid, as did the smaller Islamic Jihad.

Earlier on Friday, militants in Gaza fired rockets at Israel, causing no casualties but drawing Israeli air strikes in the blockaded coastal strip. The Palestinian health ministry said on Friday three Palestinians were taken to hospital after being shot by an Israeli settler in the northern West Bank. (Additional reporting by Ammar Awad and Eli Berlzon in Jerusalem; Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah Writing by Dominic Evans Editing by Frances Kerry and Raissa Kasolowsky)

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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