Israel on high alert after attack on Jerusalem seminary

March 7th, 2008 - 7:25 pm ICT by admin  

(Second Lead)
Jerusalem, March 7 (DPA) Israel was on high alert Friday after a Palestinian gunman burst into a Jewish religious seminary in Jerusalem the previous evening and killed eight students in the first such attack in the city in four years. The Israeli army sealed off the West Bank, allowing no Palestinians to enter Israel except for special humanitarian or medical cases, a military spokeswoman said. Thousands of police patrolled Jerusalem and other cities, while setting up roadblocks at all entry points.

Ten other Israelis were injured in the shooting spree, seven of whom were still hospitalised, Israel Radio reported, adding three were serious but stable and one was in moderate condition.

It was the first attack causing multiple casualties in Jerusalem since Jan 29, 2004, when 19 Israelis were killed in a bus bombing in the city. Several lawmakers called for suspending recently resumed peace negotiations.

The gunman, who was shot dead by an army officer living nearby, was a Palestinian from East Jerusalem who carried an Israeli identity card, the radio said.

The Palestinian entered the seminary, took a Kalashnikov semi-automatic rifle from a cardboard box and began shooting in all directions at the entrance to the library, witnesses said.

Some students hid behind book cases, while others in another room locked themselves inside, switched off the lights and lay down on the floor.

The students were studying Jewish religious texts when the attack happened and were getting ready for a party for the start of Adar, a month of joy on the Jewish calendar, marked by the Purim holiday, when Israelis dress up to celebrate the foiling of a plot to kill the Jews living in exile in the ancient Persian Empire.

Israeli police Friday identified the fatalities as two students aged 15, two aged 16, two aged 18 and a 19- and 26-year-old.

Thousands of Israelis, many of them members of the country’s Jewish religious community, gathered Friday outside the seminary in western Jerusalem, Merkaz Ha’Rav, among the most prominent yeshivas in the country, from where the funerals of the eight were to depart later in the morning.

None of the main Palestinian militant groups claimed responsibility for the shooting.

But a previously unknown Arab-Israeli group called the Free People of the Galilee, dubbing itself the death squad of Imad Mughanyeh - the military commander of Hezbollah who was assassinated in Damascus in a car bomb blast last month - and the death squad of Gaza, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to al-Manar Hezbollah television in Beirut. The Galilee is a hilly area in northern Israel, with many Arab villages.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, saying he was against the killing of civilians on both sides.

But the radical Islamic Hamas movement ruling the Strip said it was a “natural reaction” against the killing of dozens of Palestinians, many of them civilians, in Israeli airstrikes and fierce ground fighting in the northern Gaza refugee camp of Jabaliya since Wednesday last week.

The incursion and airstrikes were a response to daily rocket attacks from the Strip. Abbas earlier this week suspended negotiations with Israel that were recently revived after a seven-year freeze in the peace process. But he said after meeting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that he would resume the negotiations, which he called a “strategic choice”.

Another Palestinian, meanwhile, was killed and a second injured in the northern Gaza Strip early Friday. Voice of Palestine Radio reported he was a shepherd shot by Israeli soldiers guarding the northern Gaza border fence with Israel, but an Israeli military spokesman said the army knew of no shooting incident in the area.

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