A gunman killed at least seven Israelis in a shooting outside a synagogue on the outskirts of Jerusalem on Friday, as tensions continued to soar in the wake of the deadliest Israeli raid on the occupied West Bank in years.
Police said the gunman, whom they identified as a 21-year-old resident of East Jerusalem, arrived outside the synagogue in Neve Ya’akov around 8.15pm local time as worshippers celebrated the Sabbath.
He opened fire on several people before fleeing and being killed by police officers who had been called to the scene. In addition to the fatalities, police said three other people sustained injuries of varying severity.
The shooting, which resulted in one of the worst Israeli death tolls in recent years and took place on Holocaust Memorial day, came a day after Israeli commandos killed nine Palestinians during a raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank that targeted militants from Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
In response, Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza fired rockets at Israel on Thursday night, prompting Israel to bomb targets in the coastal enclave, which has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt since the Hamas militant group took power in 2007. No casualties were reported on either side.
The eruption of violence is the first big clash since Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline new government, widely seen as the most rightwing in Israel’s history, took office in December with ultranationalists in key security posts pledging to take a tougher stance against the Palestinians.
Israeli police commissioner Kobi Shabtai initially said on Friday night that police were “conducting searches in the area [of the shooting] to rule out the possibility that there are more people involved who are still at large”.
Police later said their preliminary assessment was the gunman had acted alone. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although Palestinian militant groups praised the attack.
Friday’s shooting follows months of near-nightly clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian militants in the West Bank, and a 56-hour conflict between Israel and militants in Gaza last August, which have exacerbated fears that long-simmering Israeli-Palestinian tensions could spill over into a larger confrontation.
Last year was the bloodiest for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2005, according to the UN, with Israeli forces killing 151 in the territory after stepping up their activities there following a spate of attacks by Palestinians that began last spring and killed 31 Israelis in 2022.
In a separate incident on Friday night, three Palestinians were hospitalised after being shot near Nablus in the north of the West Bank, according to Palestinian media. The identity of the shooter was not immediately clear.
The Palestinian Authority said on Thursday night that it was cancelling security co-operation with Israel in response to the raid on Jenin, prompting US officials to urge them to reverse the decision.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken is due to travel to Israel and the West Bank next week as part of a pre-planned visit to the region. CIA chief William Burns was also visiting on Friday.
A spokesperson for the UN’s secretary-general, António Guterres, said he condemned Friday’s shooting and was “deeply worried” about the escalating violence. “This is the moment to exercise utmost restraint,” the spokesperson said.