At least five Jewish worshippers were killed and six others injured when a Palestinian gunman opened fire outside a synagogue in Jerusalem on Friday night at the end of prayers marking the start of the Jewish Sabbath. Some of the victims were children.
Moments earlier, before reaching the synagogue, the gunman shot dead a 60-year old woman passerby and a motorcycle driver.
The attack in Jerusalem’s northern neighbourhood of Neve Ya’akov, the worst in many years, came a day after 10 Palestinians were killed when Israeli troops raided the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank to arrest an Islamic Jihad militant cell.
The perpetrator in Friday night’s attack came from the Palestinian Jerusalem neighbourhood of Shuafat, just a few kilometres from the site of the synagogue. He sped away from the scene but was shot and killed a short time later by police who intercepted his car and gave chase when the gunman ran from the vehicle.
The deadly attack marks the first significant security challenge for prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s new government, the most right-wing in Israel’s history. A number of ministers in the government, including national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, hold militant views and advocate a heavy hand in dealing with Palestinian terror threats.
Mr Netanyahu convened emergency security consultations on Friday night to consider Israel’s response.
Prior to the synagogue attack, Israel and militants in Gaza exchanged fire as tensions remained high following Thursday’s deadly Jenin raid.
Ten rockets were fired on Thursday night from Gaza towards Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system intercepted some of the projectiles, others exploded in open areas and one fell inside the Gaza Strip. In retaliation, Israel attacked a Hamas underground rocket production site and other targets. There were no injuries.
Tensions were also high around the Al-Aqsa mosque compound on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s old city, revered by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif noble sanctuary, but Friday prayers passed peacefully amid a heavy police presence.
Khader Habib, an Islamic Jihad spokesperson, said in a statement that the Palestinian people had been “subjected to unprecedented killings and attacks by the new Israeli government in all parts of the West Bank amid the complete absence of international intervention”.
Israeli leaders said they did not seek an escalation but defence minister Yoav Galant warned the Palestinians that Israel would step up strikes if the rocket fire did not stop.
The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah on Thursday announced it was suspending security co-ordination with Israel after what it described as the Jenin “massacre”.
The Biden administration called to “end the cycle of violence that has claimed the lives of too many innocent people,” state department spokesman Ned Price said.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken will hold talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders next week when he visits the region. In response to the Jenin incident the state department said it recognised the “very real security challenges facing Israel and the Palestinian Authority” and condemned “terrorist groups planning and carrying out attacks against civilians”.