JERUSALEM - 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.
A Jewish religious school student holds the hand of a fellow student as he is evacuated from the scene of a shooting attack in Jerusalem March 6, 2008. A Palestinian gunman opened fire in a Jewish religious school in Jerusalem on Thursday, killing at least eight people and wounding about 10 in the most lethal attack in Israel in two years, emergency services said. [Agencies]
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 harshly condemned the shooting and 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 moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to peace talks with Israel, condemned the attack as 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 inside 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 police were also searching for an explosives belt.
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 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 high school students and young Israeli soldiers, and many of them carry arms.