Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Saturday a “strong, swift and precise” response to a deadly Palestinian shooting attack near a synagogue on Jerusalem’s outskirts, as its military sent more troops into the occupied West Bank.
Seven people were killed in Friday’s attack and two others were wounded in another shooting in the city on Saturday.
“We are not seeking escalation, but we are prepared for any scenario,” Netanyahu said as he convened his security cabinet.
He later said the security cabinet decided to increase gun permits for licensed civilians to defend against street attacks. Before the meeting, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said he would push for the move.
A 13-year-old Palestinian boy in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan opened fire on Saturday at a group of Israeli passers-by, wounding two, before he was shot and wounded by one of them, police said.
The Israeli military said a Palestinian spotted on the edge of a West Bank settlement and armed with a handgun was “neutralized.”
The Jerusalem attack on Friday followed an Israeli raid on Thursday in the West Bank city of Jenin that killed nine Palestinians, including seven gunmen, and cross-border fire on Friday between Israel and Gaza.
An Israeli military spokesperson said an additional battalion had been sent to the West Bank for reinforcement.
There was no sign, however, Israel was preparing for a large-scale operation, and its brief cross-border exchange with Gaza ended with no casualties.
On Monday U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is due to arrive for a two-day visit to Israel and the West Bank, where clashes have worsened for months.
Thursday’s raid was the deadliest in years in the West Bank, where Israel has stepped up operations since a spate of deadly Palestinian street attacks in its cities last year.
At least 30 Palestinians – militants and civilians – have been killed in the West Bank since the start of the month.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the pro-settler Religious Zionism party and like Ben-Gvir is in Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said he demands Israeli settlement construction plans in the West Bank speed up.
Netanyahu said after the cabinet meeting that he had decided on steps that would be brought forward this week “to strengthen settlements,” without elaborating.
At a Jerusalem hospital treating casualties, Ben-Gvir said more gun permits were justified. “I want weapons on the street. I want Israeli citizens to be able to protect themselves,” he said.
SCENE AT SYNAGOGUE
Friday’s attack outside a synagogue was the deadliest in the Jerusalem area since 2008. It took place in a neighbourhood on land that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after capturing it in the 1967 Middle East war, in a move not recognised internationally.
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.
Forty-two suspects, including his family members, were arrested, police said. Netanyahu said the cabinet had decided to pursue sanctions against the families of attackers.
Police said Alkam arrived at 8:15 p.m. and opened fire with a handgun, hitting a number of people before he was killed by police.
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.
Shimon Israel, 56, who lives near the attack site, said on Saturday his family was 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.
In Tel Aviv, tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrating against Netanyahu’s plans to overhaul Israel’s judiciary began the protest on Saturday with a minute of silence for the dead.
Friday’s shooting, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, drew wide condemnation, including by Washington, the United Nations and Israel’s Arab and Western allies.
A Ukrainian woman was among the dead, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in Kyiv.
Saudi Arabia, which does not have formal ties with Israel, condemned the targeting of civilians and an escalation in violence must be halted.
Lebanon’s Iran-backed group Hezbollah praised the attack, as did Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made no mention of the attack in a statement published by the official Palestinian news 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 Thursday’s Jenin raid.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters