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Gunman Kills 8 at Jerusalem Seminary

Associated Press

6 March 2008

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JERUSALEM, Israel — A gunman entered the library of a rabbinical seminary and opened fire on a crowded nighttime study session Thursday, killing eight people and wounding nine before he was slain, police and rescue workers said. It was the first major militant attack in Jerusalem in more than four years.

Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip praised the operation in a statement, and thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza to celebrate.

The day's violence, which also included a deadly ambush of an army patrol near Israel's border with Gaza, was likely to complicate attempts by Egypt to arrange a truce between Israel and Palestinian militants. The U.S. is backing the Egyptian effort.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev and moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the shooting. But Regev said the Palestinian government must take steps against the extremists — not just denounce their attacks.

"Tonight's massacre in Jerusalem is a defining moment," he told The Associated Press. "It is clear that those people celebrating this bloodshed have shown themselves to be not only the enemies of Israel but of all of humanity."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who only on Wednesday persuaded Abbas to return to peace talks with Israel, called the attack an "act of terror and depravity."

Israeli defense officials said the attacker came from east Jerusalem, the predominantly Palestinian section of the city. Jerusalem's Palestinians have Israeli ID cards that give them freedom of movement in Israel, unlike Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the attacker walked through the seminary's main gate and entered the library, where witnesses said some 80 people were gathered. He carried an assault rifle and pistol, and used both weapons in the attack. Rosenfeld said at least six empty bullet clips were found on the floor.

Two hours after the shooting, police found the body of the eighth victim. Rescue workers said nine people were wounded, three seriously.

David Simchon, head of the seminary, said the students had been preparing a celebration for the new month on the Jewish calendar, which includes the holiday of Purim. "We were planning to have a Purim party here tonight and instead we had a massacre," he told Channel 2 TV.

Yehuda Meshi Zahav, head of the Zaka rescue service, entered the library after the attack. "The whole building looked like a slaughterhouse. The floor was covered in blood. The students were in class at the time of the attack," he said. "The floors are littered with holy books covered in blood."

Witnesses described a terrifying scene during the shooting, with students jumping out windows to escape.

One of the students, Yitzhak Dadon, said he shot the attacker twice in the head. "I laid on the roof of the study hall, cocked my gun and waited for him. He came out of the library spraying automatic fire," he said.

Police said an Israeli soldier in the area then shot the man dead. After the shooting, hundreds of seminary students demonstrated outside the building, screaming for revenge and chanting, "Death to Arabs."

The seminary is the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in the Kiryat Moshe quarter at the entrance to Jerusalem, a prestigious center of Jewish studies identified with the leadership of the Jewish settlement movement in the West Bank.

It was founded by the late Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook, the movement's spiritual founder, and serves some 400 high school students and young Israeli soldiers, and many of them carry arms.

"It's very sad tonight in Jerusalem," Mayor Uri Lupolianski told Channel 2 TV. "Many people were killed in the heart of Jerusalem."

Rabbi Shlomo Amar, one of Israel's two chief rabbis, led a prayer session at the seminary after the shooting. Students huddled together, and many sobbed uncontrollably.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah's Al-Manar satellite TV station said a previously unknown group called the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh and Gaza was responsible for the attack. The claim could not immediately be verified. Mughniyeh, a Hezbollah commander, was killed in a car bomb in Syria last month. Hezbollah has blamed Israel for the assassination.

Hamas stopped just short of claiming responsibility for the Jerusalem shootings. "We bless the operation. It will not be the last," Hamas said in a statement sent to reporters by text message.

At mosques in Gaza City and the northern Gaza Strip, many residents performed prayers of thanksgiving — only performed in cases of great victory to thank God.

About 7,000 Gazans marched in the streets of Jebaliya, firing in the air in celebration, and visited homes of those killed and wounded in the last Israeli incursion. In the southern town of Rafah, residents distributed sweets to moving cars, and militants fired mortars in celebration.

Rice said she spoke with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to express U.S. condolences to the people of Israel and the families of the victims.

"This barbarous act has no place among civilized peoples and shocks the conscience of all peace loving nations. There is no cause that could ever justify this action," she said.

Israel's Foreign Ministry condemned the "abominable" attack and urged the world to rally with it against terrorism. "Israel expects the nations of the world to support it in its war against those who murder students, women and children, by any means and with respect for neither place nor target," it said.

At his West Bank headquarters, Abbas condemned the attack. "The president condemned all attacks that target civilians, whether they are Palestinian or Israeli," a statement said.

Abbas had briefly suspended talks to protest an Israeli offensive in Gaza that killed more than 120 Palestinians.

The attack came on the same day Egyptian officials were trying to mediate a truce between Palestinian militants and Israel…

The seminary shooting was the first major attack by Palestinian militants in Jerusalem since a suicide bomber killed eight people on Feb. 22, 2004…

ID: N580

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