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Spate of shootings targeting Israelis puts region on high alert

Hundreds of Israeli anti-government protesters held a memorial ceremony on Jan. 28 for the victims of a synagogue attack in Jerusalem that killed 7. (Video: Reuters)
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JERUSALEM — Two Israelis were injured Saturday in a shooting in East Jerusalem, a day after a lethal rampage at a Jerusalem synagogue, the latest in a cycle of violence that threatens to plunge the region into a new round of bloodshed.

Israel’s emergency service said that it received a report of the shooting in Ma’alot Ir David, an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, at 10:42 a.m. on Saturday. The alleged shooter, a 13-year-old Palestinian from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, was apprehended by an armed civilian at the scene, according to Israeli police.

Later in the day, near the West Bank settlement of Almog, an unidentified gunman fired a shot into a restaurant before fleeing the scene, Israeli police said. No injuries were reported.

Saturday’s shootings came a day after a Palestinian gunman killed seven people during Friday night prayer services outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem, spurring celebrations by Palestinians in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. On Saturday, Israeli authorities announced new anti-terrorism proposals, as well as a loosening of restrictions on civilian gun ownership, but stopped short of retaliatory military strikes.

Meanwhile, details began to emerge about those who were killed in the synagogue attack, including a 14-year-old boy and a married couple in their 40s, Eli and Natalie Mizrahi. After hearing gunshots on the street, they left their Friday night dinner and went down to the street to offer help, Eli’s father, Shimon, told reporters near the site of the shooting.

“The terrorist was standing there and he took out his gun, shot them, got into his car and escaped,” he said.

Among the injured were a 60-year-old woman and a 15-year-old boy.

Friday’s attack was the deadliest on Israelis in years, and put the region on the brink of a major escalation. On Thursday, an Israeli military raid killed nine Palestinians at a refugee camp in Jenin, the deadliest single operation in the West Bank in nearly two decades, Palestinian officials said. Early Friday, militants in Gaza fired rockets into Israel, which retaliated with airstrikes on the territory.

At least 30 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank this year, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

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The surging violence is an early test for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing government, which came to power late last month planning to restrict minority rights, tighten the occupation of the West Bank and allow harsher treatment of Palestinians.

After convening his security and political cabinet on Saturday, Netanyahu said Israel does not want an escalation, but is “prepared for any scenario.”

On Saturday night local time, far-right national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who rose from political obscurity by promising to enforce the death penalty for convicted Palestinian terrorists and enable Israeli soldiers to shoot at rock-throwing Palestinians, announced plans to seal and demolish the homes of assailants’ families and make it easier for Israeli citizens to obtain gun licenses. The anti-terror measures — which are in line with previous Israeli responses to Palestinian attacks and have been criticized by rights groups as “collective punishment” — are still pending approval by Israel’s attorney general.

In his televised remarks, Ben Gvir sought to preempt criticism that the policies didn’t go far enough and blamed the attorney general for not acting more quickly.

“In my opinion, it is terrible, this harms Israeli civilians,” he said.

Aviv Bushinsky, a political analyst and former chief of staff for Netanyahu, said Ben Gvir was likely to “lose a lot of points” among his supporters, who voted for him “on the expectation that he would deliver, that he would allow security forces to work without their hands tied.”

“Now we’re seeing that, in reality, [his campaign promises] aren’t real,” he said.

Shortly after Ben Gvir’s statement, several hundred Israelis demonstrated near the site of the shooting in Neve Yaakov, chanting “death to the terrorists,” lighting memorial candles, and watching as volunteers from an emergency response team collected blood from a nearby intersection.

“People are angry, people are upset,” Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon said during a visit to the neighborhood.

As Ben Gvir was debriefed by security at the scene Friday night, residents shouted that the attacks had “taken place on your watch! We trusted you! What will you do?”

Israeli military and police have been put on the highest possible alert level, requesting the public to report suspicious objects and boosting forces throughout East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel in anticipation of further violence. Israeli police said on Saturday that they had arrested 42 people in connection with Friday’s shooting.

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The shootings took place in East Jerusalem, a contested part of the city which Israel has controlled since its annexation in 1967 and which is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital. A previous Netanyahu government sought to evict a group of Palestinians from their East Jerusalem homes in favor of Jewish settlers in 2021, leading to a bloody 11-day confrontation between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip.

The synagogue shooting was celebrated by Palestinians across East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza late Friday. A Twitter account affiliated with Hamas posted videos and photos of fireworks, horns honking, people cheering and handing out treats. On Saturday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, refused to condemn the attack in Jerusalem, saying Israel was “fully responsible for the dangerous escalation,” according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.

The suspected gunman has been identified as Khairi Alqam, a 21-year-old Palestinian from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of al-Tur, according to Israeli and Palestinian media. Alqam was named after his grandfather, who was fatally stabbed in 1998, allegedly by a Jewish attacker, the Israeli news site Ynet reported. Among those arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack was Chaim Perlman, a member of the violently anti-Arab “Kahana Chai” movement, who was detained for a month in 2010. After his release, Perlman was forbidden by security forces from contacting several right-wing activists, including former Kahanist, Ben Gvir.

Israeli police said that Alqam entered the synagogue in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Neve Yaakov at around 8:15 p.m. After opening fire at worshipers, police said he ran into the street, where he took shots at pedestrians. He tried to flee by car before Israeli security officers killed him at the scene. He is believed to have acted alone and has no criminal record.

U.S. officials on prearranged visits to the region must now navigate a moment of peril. CIA Director William J. Burns is in Israel this week and Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to visit Monday and Tuesday. Blinken will meet with Netanyahu in Israel and Abbas in the West Bank, the State Department said.

In a call with Netanyahu on Friday, President Biden “made clear that this was an attack against the civilized world,” and stressed the “ironclad U.S. commitment to Israel’s security,” according to a White House readout.

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s chief diplomat, said Saturday the E.U. “fully recognizes Israel’s legitimate security concerns” but urged restraint: “It has to be stressed that lethal force must only be used as a last resort,” he said.

Ables reported from Seoul. Sufian Taha contributed reporting from Jerusalem.


A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Hamas, the Islamist militant group, rules the West Bank. It rules the Gaza Strip. The article has been corrected.