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Eight Killed in Jewish School: Israel Says Talks Go On


7 March 2008

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JERUSALEM — A Palestinian gunman shot dead at least eight people at a Jewish religious school in Jerusalem, but Israel said the killings would not derail U.S.-sponsored peace talks.

"It was a slaughterhouse," Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, head of the Zaka emergency service, said of the scene on Thursday night at the Merkaz Harav seminary, one of the city's most prominent Jewish educational centers.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The attack was greeted with celebrations in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip after a recent Israeli offensive there that killed more than 120 Palestinians, about half of them civilians.

"Tonight's massacre in Jerusalem is a defining moment. Those celebrating these murders have shown themselves to be the enemies not only of Israel, but the endemies of peace and reconciliation," said Mark Regev, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said peace talks would continue with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who denounced the shooting.

The attack, which could further complicate U.S. efforts to broker a statehood deal by the end of 2008, followed a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who persuaded Abbas to resume peace talks he suspended over the bloody Gaza assault.

Washington has tried to persuade Israel to ease some travel restrictions on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, but the attack makes that far less likely to happen soon. Jerusalem sources said they believed the attacker was from East Jerusalem.

U.S. President George W. Bush called Olmert. "I told him the United States stands firmly with Israel in the face of this terrible attack," Bush said in a statement.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain were among the first to strongly condemn the killings.

But the United States accused Libya, backed by several other countries, of preventing the U.N. Security Council from condemning the assault as a "terrorist attack."

Condemnation Blocked

A member of the Libyan delegation, speaking to reporters after the extraordinary Security Council meeting, said the council should not speak about the Jerusalem attack while ignoring the Gaza situation.

"If the council should take any action, it should be a balanced action and should condemn the killing in Gaza as well as the killing in Jerusalem," the Libyan envoy said.

Israel's enemy Libya is one of the 15 Security Council members. It was elected to the council last year, after Washington dropped its objections, and joined it in January.

Witnesses said the gunman entered the crowded seminary and fired an automatic weapon at students in its library before he was shot dead by an off-duty army officer.

Jerusalem police chief Aharon Franco said the attacker had used a cardboard box to hide his gun.

Emergency worker Yerach Tucker said bloodied students ran out of the seminary. "I went into the library and there were youngsters lying there, dead with bibles — with holy books in their hands," Tucker told reporters.

In addition to those killed, at least 10 people were wounded, three of them seriously, emergency workers said.

It was the highest Israeli death toll since April 17, 2006, when 11 people were killed and over 60 wounded in a suicide bombing during the Passover holiday in Tel Aviv.

Outside the seminary, a crowd shouted "Death to the Arabs."

In Gaza, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said the group "blesses the heroic operation in Jerusalem, which was a natural reaction to the Zionist massacre." A loudspeaker in Gaza City blared the message: "This is God's vengeance."

The attack in Jerusalem came hours after inconclusive talks in which Egypt sought to broker a truce between Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders and Israel to halt a surge in violence.

(Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; writing by Adam Entous; Editing by Michael Winfrey)

ID: N583

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