(by Joshua Mitnick, March 7, 2008, WashingtonTimes.com) JERUSALEM – Israeli-Palestinian peace talks faced a massive setback, as Israel struggled to digest yesterday’s slaughter of eight Jewish yeshiva seminary students by a Palestinian gunman and Palestinian celebrations of the attack that followed throughout the Gaza Strip.
“Just like the Qassam rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on Sderot, this is an indiscriminate attack on Israeli civilians,” said David Baker, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “Anybody who celebrates tonight’s [yeshiva] attack has shown he is the enemy of peace and coexistence.”
The Palestinian assassin slipped into a prominent religious academy in Jerusalem, entered the library where students were studying and opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle.
It was the worst terrorist attack in four years in the holy city that is claimed by Israelis and Palestinians as their capital.
At least eight students died and 10 were rushed to hospitals from Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, an institution that is considered the ideological heart of the movement to establish and grow Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank.
“I could hear the screams of the yeshiva students. It was a death trap,” said Ariel, a student who had barricaded himself in a room adjacent to the library during the shooting spree. “Guys who just a few minutes before were studying right next to me were laying on the floor.”
In another incident yesterday, an Israeli soldier patrolling the border with the Gaza Strip was killed in an ambush by Palestinian militants. Palestinians in Gaza called it a day of victory and went in the streets to celebrate.
The attacks mark a resurgence of Israeli-Palestinian violence after a brief lull prior to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s two-day visit to Israel and the West Bank, which ended Wednesday.
Miss Rice condemned yesterday’s attack as an “act of terror and depravity.”
The U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were temporarily suspended earlier this week by the Palestinians in protest over an Israeli offensive in Gaza against rocket launch teams that left more than 120 Palestinians dead.
Two unknown groups claimed responsibility for the yeshiva attack, the Galilee Freedom Brigades and the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh, a reference to the Hezbollah security chief assassinated a few weeks ago in Damascus.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, called on the U.N. Security Council to convene an emergency session.
Witnesses said the shooting rampage lasted more than 10 minutes before one of the yeshiva students succeeded in shooting the terrorist with a gun.
Israeli defense officials told the Associated Press that 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 inside Israel, unlike Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Celebratory gunfire reverberated throughout Gaza City, as groups of Hamas militants marched through the streets waving green flags and calling out over loudspeakers: “Allah gave us this victorious day, because we deserve our freedom.”
“This attack is in response to the killing of our children and the ongoing Israeli aggression,” said Ismail, 23, a Hamas member marching to Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar’s house in Gaza City. “We will respond every time the Zionists attack.”
Hamas’ radio station in Gaza broadcast festive music to mark the attack.
For many Gaza residents however, an ominous sense of fear quickly spread as many streets emptied and shops shut their doors.
“People are celebrating now, but in 24 hours, this celebration will turn to misery when the martyrs start falling,” said Abu Husam, 55, a taxi driver in Gaza City.
Palestinians in Gaza expect Israel to retaliate with air attacks and ground incursions into neighborhoods controlled by Hamas.
In Jerusalem, yeshiva students said they climbed out of the windows of the library to safety. Emergency workers who arrived on the scene said the gunman shot at ambulances that had come to evacuate the wounded.
“They didn’t know who was against whom,” said Yehuda Meshi Zahav, one of the emergency personnel at the scene of the attack. “There was blood on the study tables and holy books strewn about the floor.”
Jerusalem was a frequent target of Palestinian militants at the height of the uprising in 2002 and 2003, suffering bus bombings and suicide in the central shopping district.
Attacks on educational institutions have been rare, but in 2002, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive in the cafeteria of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
– Erica Silverman contributed to this report from Gaza City.
Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY’S RULING POLITICAL PARTIES:
The Palestinian Authority is currently ruled by two parties, Fatah and Hamas. Hamas holds the majority of seats in the Palestinian Parliament and the office of Prime Minister. Fatah holds a minority of seats in the Parliament, and the office of President.
Fatah ruled the Palestinian Authority from its establishment in 1994 until 2006. [Yasser Arafat was the head of Fatah until his death in 2004.] Fatah is a major secular Palestinian political party…. In Palestinian politics it is on the center-left of the spectrum. ….. [Since its loss in 2006 as the ruling party] it has … been described oftentimes in the media as the more “moderate” party, although many dispute this due to its past actions and current policies. (from Wikipedia.org)
Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni Islamist terrorist organization that currently (since January 2006) forms the majority party of the Palestinian Authority…. Hamas is known outside the Palestinian territories for its suicide bombings and other attacks directed against Israeli civilians, as well as military and security forces targets. Hamas’ charter…calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. …………..In January 2006, Hamas won a surprise victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections…. (from Wikipedia.org)
NOTE: Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia. Anyone can submit information on any topic. Some of the material on Wikipedia has been known to be inaccurate or biased. It is our judgement that the excerpts from wikipedia.org posted above are accurate.
Click here for a map of Israel (including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.)
For information on Hamas, visit the Council on Foreign Relations website at cfr.org/publication/8968/hamas.html.
Read a commentary on the Jerusalem attack here.