Israeli army reinforces in West Bank after synagogue shooting

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A Police officer (R) outside the Ataret Avraham Synagogue in the Neve Yaakov neighborhood after a fatal shooting attack in Jerusalem, 28 January 2023. (EPA)

A possible shooting attack wounded two people in Jerusalem on Saturday, as Israel’s military said it was boosting its forces in the occupied West Bank after a Palestinian gunman shot dead seven people near a synagogue on the outskirts of the city.

Friday night’s shooting came a day after the deadliest Israeli raid in the West Bank in years and cross-border fire between Israel and Gaza that heightened fears of a spiral in bloodshed.

On Saturday, the Israeli ambulance service said two people were hurt in what appeared to be another shooting attack.

Israeli police said that the gunman in Friday’s attack was a 21-year-old Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who appeared to have acted alone in carrying out the attack in an area that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East war.

It said he had tried to flee by car but was pursued by police and shot dead. Forty-two suspects, including members of the gunman’s family, had been arrested and authorities were on the highest alert, the police said.

The attack underlined fears of 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.

“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.

The outbreak of violence is the first major confrontation since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office last month at the head of a government that includes hardline nationalist parties.

Following an assessment with security authorities, Netanyahu urged people not to take the law into their own hands but said measures had been decided and cabinet would meet on Saturday.

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 told a waiting crowd.

CONDEMNATION

Friday’s shooting, which occurred on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and on the Jewish Sabbath, was condemned by the White House and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who expressed concern over the current escalation of violence and urged “utmost restraint”. It came days before a planned visit by U.S. 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 attack 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 potential for further escalation, 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 Jerusalem gunman arrived at 8:15 p.m. and opened fire with a handgun, hitting a number of people before he was killed by police. “We arrived to the scene extremely quickly and it was horrible. Injured people lying on the street,” said Shimon Alfasi from the Israeli ambulance service.

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 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.

SOURCEç:  REUTERS

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