As police rushed to the scene, two passers-by with licensed weapons shot and overpowered the 13-year-old attacker, police said. Police confiscated his handgun and took the wounded teen to a hospital. Video showed police escorting a wounded teen, wearing nothing but underwear, away from the scene and onto a stretcher, his hands cuffed behind his back. Authorities taped off the street, emergency vehicles and security forces swarmed the area and helicopters whirled overhead.
“He waited to ambush civilians on the holy Sabbath day,” Israeli police spokesman Dean Elsdunne told The Associated Press, adding that the teenager opened fire on a group of five civilians. Security footage showed the victims to be observant Jews, wearing skullcaps and tzitzit, or knotted ritual tassels.
Saturday’s events — on the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s arrival in the region — raised the possibility of even greater conflagration in one of the bloodiest months in Israel and the occupied West Bank in several years. On Friday, a Palestinian gunman killed at least seven people, including a 70-year-old woman, in a Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem, an area captured by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move not internationally recognized.
The names and ages of four of the synagogue attack’s victims were officially cleared. They included 14-year-old Asher Natan; Eli Mizrahi, 48, and his wife Natali, 45. The fourth victim was Rafael Ben Eliyahu, 56. Other names are to be officially identified.
The attacks pose pivotal test for Israel’s new far-right government. Its firebrand minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has presented himself as an enforcer of law and order and grabbed headlines for his promises to take even stronger action against the Palestinians.
Speaking to reporters at a hospital where victims were being treated, Ben-Gvir said he wants homes of Palestinian attackers sealed off immediately as a punitive measure, lashing out at Israel’s attorney general for delaying his order. She “is not allowing us to seal the house. In my opinion this is awful. In my opinion, it can’t be like that,” he said of the top prosecutor.
He also called for demolishing dozens of Palestinian homes that Israel says were illegally built in east Jerusalem, granting more gun licenses to Israelis, and applying the death penalty on Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis.
Overhauling the justice system in the country, including the attorney general’s, has been on the top agenda of the new government, which says judges have overwhelming powers. The divisive issue helped fuel weekly protests by Israelis who say the sweeping proposed changes would weaken the Supreme Court and undermine democracy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security Cabinet to discuss further responses to recent Palestinian attacks. At the opening of the meeting, he said the government’s response will be “strong, swift, and precise.”
He vowed to expedite the procedures to seal off and destroy attackers’ homes. “This process already started yesterday and is in progress,” he said, also promising to speed up weapons permits. “This government will act firmly, decisively and powerfully against terrorism…We are not looking for escalation, but we are prepared for any scenario.”
The Israeli army said it had deployed another battalion to the West Bank on Saturday, adding hundreds more troops to a presence already on heightened alert in the occupied territory.
In the Jenin refugee camp, the site of a deadly Israeli military raid on Thursday that fueled the latest escalation, footage showed Palestinians dancing and cheering in celebration of the shooting on Saturday. Palestinian detainees who celebrated in prison after Friday’s attack were placed in solitary confinement, the Israeli prison service said.
Security forces launched a crackdown in east Jerusalem, fanning out into the neighborhood of the 21-year-old Palestinian gunman, who was shot and killed at the scene. Police arrested 42 of his family members and neighbors for questioning in the At-Tur neighborhood.
The Palestinian leadership, meanwhile, upheld its decision to halt security coordination with Israel that was taken Thursday following the deadly raid in Jenin. After a meeting headed by President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority called on international community and the U.S. administration to oblige Israel into stopping its raids and operations in the West Bank.
Police Chief Kobi Shabtai permanently moved a force, similar to a S.W.A.T. team, in the city and beefed up forces, instructing police to work 12-hour shifts. He urged the public to call a hotline if they see anything suspicious.
The earlier Friday attack came a day after an Israeli military raid killed nine Palestinians in the flashpoint Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank that prompted a rocket barrage from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.
Although calm had appeared to take hold after the limited exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza militants, tensions were running high in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Thursday’s raid, deadliest single incursion in the West Bank since 2002, followed a particularly bloody month that saw at least 30 Palestinians — militants and civilians — killed in in confrontations with Israelis in the West Bank, according to a tally by the AP.
Last year, as the Israeli military intensified its arrest raids following a string of deadly Palestinian attacks within Israel, at least 150 Palestinians were killed in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. It was the highest annual death toll for more than a decade and a half. Thirty people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis last year.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed.
The Israeli military contends its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. But Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians demand east Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state, and much of the world considers it illegally occupied. Israel claims as its united, sovereign capital. Palestinians also say the building of Jewish settlements in those territories threatens the prospect of a viable, contiguous future state.
Home to the shrines of all three major monotheistic religions, the contested capital been the centerpiece of spiking tensions between Israelis and Palestinians for years.
Both Palestinian attackers behind the shootings on Friday and Saturday came from east Jerusalem. Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem hold permanent residency status, allowing them to work and move freely throughout Israel, but they are not allowed to vote in national elections. Residency rights can be stripped if a Palestinian is found to live outside the city for an extended period or in certain security cases.
Although their standard of living is generally better than in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian residents of the city receive a fraction of the services that Jewish residents do. They also complain of home demolitions and the near impossibility of obtaining Israeli building permits.