Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed “strong” and rapid action on Saturday following two attacks in annexed east Jerusalem carried out by Palestinians, one of which killed seven people outside a synagogue.
The attacks came after one of the deadliest Israeli army raids in the occupied West Bank in two decades, rocket fire from militants in the Gaza Strip and retaliatory Israeli air strikes.
Netanyahu who returned to power in December after just 14 months in opposition has for decades branded himself as the leader best suited to keep Israel safe and will be tested by the deadliest spate of violence targeting Israelis in years.
“Our response will be strong, swift and accurate,” Netanyahu said ahead of a meeting of his security cabinet.
“We’re not seeking an escalation but are prepared for any scenario.”
The bloodshed continued on Saturday, when a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and wounded a 47-year-old Israeli father and his army officer son, 23, in east Jerusalem.
The Saturday morning gun attack was in Silwan, just outside the walled Old City of east Jerusalem. The boy blamed for the attack was shot and wounded at the scene.
– Anger growing –
On Friday, a 21-year-old Palestinian killed seven people outside am east Jerusalem synagogue.
Police announced 42 arrests in connection with Friday’s shooting, which coincided with International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
After the synagogue attack, crowds shouted “Death to Arabs” at the scene.
Palestinians held spontaneous rallies to celebrate the killings in Gaza and across the West Bank, including in Ramallah where large crowds thronged the streets chanting and waving Palestinian flags.
Israeli police have renewed a call for people with licences to carry guns, while extreme-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said more people should get permits to bear arms.
“When civilians have guns, they can defend themselves,” he told reporters outside a Jerusalem hospital on Saturday.
The army has also announced it is reinforcing troop numbers in the West Bank.
Speaking ahead of the Saturday night cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said he would present further measures “to combat terror”, including denying national insurance payments to “terror-supporting families”.
The Israeli premier also renewed his appeal against vigilantes and acts of revenge.
“I call again on all Israelis — don’t take the law into your hands,” he said. “We have a sovereign state with an army, a government and excellent security forces.”
– US visit –
Several Arab governments that have ties with Israel — including Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates — have condemned the synagogue attack.
But the Palestinian Authority led by president Mahmud Abbas has not, with his office insisting Israel was “fully responsible for the dangerous escalation”.
Abbas and Netanyahu are due to meet separately with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken next week, talks that have taken on renewed urgency amid the widening bloodshed.
It will be Netanyahu’s first high-level US meeting since returning to power as the head of the most right-wing government in Israeli history.
Netanyahu’s domestic critics continued their protests on Saturday, with thousands turning out in Tel Aviv to oppose his controversial judicial reform plan that aims to give politicians more control over the Supreme Court.
Demonstrators observed a minute of silence for those killed on Friday.
– ‘Bullet in his head’ –
The synagogue shooting has been described as the deadliest single attack targeting Israelis in more than a decade.
The gunman was shot dead by police following a brief car chase.
There has been no indication that he had prior involvement in militant activity or was a member of an established Palestinian armed group.
Authorities have not yet definitively identified the gunman, but Israeli and Palestinian media have named him as Khayri Alqam, who was being praised on some social media platforms including his Facebook page.
Shimon Israel, who lives near the synagogue and witnessed the attack, said he was sitting down for Shabbat dinner when he heard “shooting and shouting”.
“A guy stopped (his car) to help… got a bullet in his head and died right here next to me,” he said.
Police said the dozens arrested included members of the gunman’s immediate family, relatives and neighbours.
On Thursday, nine Palestinians were killed in what Israel described as a “counter-terrorism” operation in the Jenin refugee camp.
It was one of the deadliest Israeli army raids in the West Bank since the second intifada, the Palestinian uprising of 2000 to 2005.
Israel said Islamic Jihad operatives were the target.
Islamic Jihad and Hamas both later fired several rockets at Israeli territory.
Most of the rockets were intercepted by Israeli air defences. The military responded with strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza.
There were no casualties reported on either side, but Gaza’s armed groups vowed further action.