Biden calls Netanyahu to denounce ‘horrific’ Jerusalem terror attack

US president says synagogue massacre is ‘an attack against the civilized world,’ stresses commitment to Israeli security

US President Joe Biden walks out of the White House in Washington, January 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
US President Joe Biden walks out of the White House in Washington, January 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

US President Joe Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday, condemning what he called a “horrific terror attack” outside a Jerusalem synagogue in which a Palestinian gunman killed seven people.

“The president made clear that this was an attack against the civilized world,” the White House said in a readout of the call, adding that Biden also “stressed the ironclad US commitment to Israel’s security.”

Biden offered support to Israel’s government and people following the attack.

“The President stressed the ironclad US commitment to Israel’s security, and agreed that his team would remain in constant touch with their Israeli counterparts,” the White House said. There was no immediate statement on the call from the Prime Minister’s Office.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US “condemns in the strongest terms the horrific terrorist attack.”

“We mourn those killed in the attack, and our thoughts are with the injured, including children.  The notion of people being targeted as they leave a house of worship is abhorrent,” Blinken said.

US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides also denounced the shooting, expressing shock and disgust at the “horrific act of violence,” as did the EU’s envoy to the Jewish state and the French embassy, among others.

Security and rescue forces at the scene of a deadly terror shooting attack in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem, January 27, 2023 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Biden welcomed Israel’s new government when it took office late last month, saying he looked forward to working with Netanyahu to advance regional peace, but ties between Jerusalem and Washington have been tense due to the Israeli government’s hardline agenda and fraught relationship with the Palestinians.

Blinken is set to visit Israel and the West Bank next week for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leadership. The trip will take place less than two weeks after a similar visit by White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Sullivan said Friday he had spoken with his Israeli counterpart Tzachi Hanegbi after the attack.

In addition to the statements from the US, condemnations of Friday’s attack and expressions of support for Israel poured in on Friday after the massacre.

UN officials, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and at least 10 European countries issued statements following the attack.

The incident came amid spiraling tensions and violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

The shooting came a day after nine Palestinians were killed during an Israel Defense Forces raid in the West Bank city of Jenin. The IDF said it was targeting a terror cell to prevent an imminent attack, and most of the dead were members of the cell or gunmen, although at least one civilian was killed, according to Palestinian media.

The Palestinian Authority said it was cutting security ties with Israel in response to the incident. Thursday overnight saw rocket fire from Palestinian terror groups in Gaza and Israeli retaliatory air strikes, though both sides appeared intent on avoiding an escalation into a full-scale war.

The US was also working to deescalate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians after the raid.

Security forces at the scene of a deadly terror shooting attack in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem, January 27, 2023 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Medics said after Friday’s attack that the dead were five men, aged 20, 25, 30, 50, and 60, and two women, aged 60 and 70. The victims were not immediately named.

The wounded victims included a 15-year-old boy in moderate-to-serious condition, a 24-year-old man in moderate condition, and a 60-year-woman, also in moderate condition.

The shooter is believed to have waited outside the synagogue and opened fire on worshipers as they stepped outside after Shabbat services.

The terrorist was shot dead by police after fleeing the scene of the attack in the capital’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood. He was named by the Shin Bet security agency as Alqam Khayri, 21, a resident of East Jerusalem with no prior terror-related offenses.

With seven killed, the shooting in Jerusalem was the deadliest terror attack since 2011, when terrorists crossed into Israel from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing eight Israelis. It was the deadliest Palestinian terror attack since 2008, when a gunman from East Jerusalem killed eight Israeli students at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in the capital.

Netanyahu, speaking after visiting the scene of the attack, called it “one of the most severe we have known in years.”

“Our hearts are with the families. I commend the police officers who took action so quickly,” Netanyahu said. “We must act with determination and composure. I call on people not to take the law into their own hands.”

He said the cabinet would convene on Saturday, adding, “We have decided on several immediate steps that will begin tonight.”

News of the attack sparked widespread celebrations in Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza, with residents shooting off fireworks, lighting bonfires and passing out sweets.

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