Three people were killed and several injured in a shooting attack at a bus stop entrance to Jerusalem on Thursday morning, in what Israeli authorities are calling a terror attack. The Palestinian militant group Hamas has claimed responsibility for the attack, which threatens to unravel an existing ceasefire agreement made earlier this week following heavy fighting between Israel and militants in Gaza.
Shooting Occurs During Morning Commute
The shooting occurred at a bus stop near the main entrance to Jerusalem during the busy morning commute time around 6:50 AM local time. According to reports, two gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons on a group of civilians waiting at the bus stop, which is used by both Israeli settlers and Palestinian laborers.
At least three people were killed in the attack, including two men in their 20s and 40s and one woman in her 20s. The victims were all Israeli citizens. Additionally, at least eight others were injured, several seriously. Emergency responders rushed victims to nearby hospitals.
Security forces pursued the attackers, fatally shooting them after a brief chase. The two Palestinian gunmen were armed with pistols and assault rifles, authorities said. Police have described the shooting as a "terrorist attack."
|2 men, 20s and 40s
|1 woman, 20s
Hamas Claims Responsibility, Threatening Ceasefire
The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, has claimed responsibility for planning and carrying out the attack. A Hamas official reportedly said the shooting was meant to protest Israeli policies in East Jerusalem and threats to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims.
The attack comes just days after Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire mediated by Egypt after nearly three days of fighting last weekend. Over those days, Israeli jets pounded Gaza while militants fired hundreds of rockets into Israel. The ceasefire deal saw Israel allow fuel shipments back into Gaza and expand fishing rights off the coast, while Hamas halted rocket attacks.
By claiming the Jerusalem shooting, Hamas seems to be threatening renewed hostilities despite extending the Gaza ceasefire by another day just hours earlier. An escalation by either side would risk dragging the region back into wider conflict.
Attack Follows Months of Rising Tensions
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been building for months, centered around Israeli policies and activities in East Jerusalem.
A number of factors have contributed to growing tensions:
- Controversial Israeli nationalists visiting and asserting control over the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a holy site for both Jews and Muslims. Palestinians view this as threatening.
- Eviction lawsuits filed against Palestinian families living in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Several families face possible displacement.
- Growing Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope to have as their future capital in any potential two-state solution. This threatens those ambitions.
These flashpoints, alongside deadly attacks like today’s shooting, risk inflaming tensions and leading to further conflict between the two sides.
Several previous cycles of violence have been sparked by incidents surrounding Jerusalem holy sites or Israeli settlement expansion. With Hamas now celebrating the shooting attack, the risk of retaliation and escalation remains high.
International Community Condemns Attack
The shooting has been widely condemned by the international community, including the United States and United Nations.
U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides called the attack "absolutely horrific," pledging continued American support for Israel’s right to defend itself while urging all sides to prevent further loss of civilian life. U.N. Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland said he was "appalled" by the attack and called for calm on both sides.
Other world leaders similarly criticized the targeting of civilians while calling for de-escalation and a return to ceasefire commitments to avoid inflaming tensions throughout the region.
With the Gaza ceasefire barely holding on, the world is urging maximum restraint by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to prevent today’s violence from spiraling into yet another devastating round of fighting.
What Comes Next? Risk of Retaliation and Conflict
In the wake of the Jerusalem shooting, several scenarios could play out – including the possibilities of localized retaliation, return to broader armed conflict, or maintenance of the uneasy ceasefire.
Possibility 1: Tit-for-Tat Retaliation
There is a real possibility that today’s violence leads to direct retaliation by either Israeli security forces or Hamas militants.
Israeli police and military could launch arrests or targeted strikes against Hamas facilities or operatives in the West Bank or Gaza Strip as an act of revenge. Similarly, Hamas or other Gaza militants may fire rockets or carry out another attack targeting Israeli civilians in the coming days.
Such tit-for-tat retaliation threatens to quickly engulf the region in violence, undoing ceasefire efforts.
Possibility 2: Slide Back Into Wider Armed Conflict
Today’s attack may also represent the start of Hamas or other Palestinian militant groups abandoning the current Egypt-brokered ceasefire with Israel established earlier this week.
If Hamas resumes rocket launches from Gaza while Israel returns to widespread airstrikes, the region could rapidly slide back into intense, large-scale armed conflict similar to 2014, 2021, and last weekend.
New fighting would bring a severe risk to civilians on both sides, with the UN estimating last weekend’s conflict displaced over 75,000 Gazans. Avoiding a new war remains paramount.
Possibility 3: Ceasefire Holds Despite Tensions
Diplomatic efforts from Egypt, Qatar, and the international community may succeed in preserving the fragile Gaza ceasefire agreement, preventing today’s violence from cascading into a new round of fighting.
While challenging after the Jerusalem attack given calls for revenge and retaliation, ceasefire negotiators could emphasize progress made so far on allowing aid and reconstruction materials back into Gaza while expanding fishing zones as incentives to maintain calm.
If the ceasefire holds, the region may return to an uneasy but less violent status quo, although without addressing core incompatibility issues between Israelis and Palestinians that precipitated today’s attack.
In the aftermath of today’s fatal terror attack outside Jerusalem, the risk of swift retaliation leading to renewed regional tensions and conflict remains high. As Hamas threatens renewed violence over Israeli policies in East Jerusalem, much rests on the shoulders of diplomats and leaders on both sides to avoid inflammatory reactions. Their choices in the coming days could dictate whether peace has a chance or the region once more descends into bloodshed.
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