A Palestinian gunman shot and killed eight people inside the library of a rabbinical seminary in Jerusalem late Thursday. VOA's Jim Teeple reports the attack comes as tensions are high in the region after a week of violence in the Gaza Strip.
Witnesses say the gunman entered the library of the Merkaz Harav seminary and opened fire on about 80 people in the room who were preparing for an upcoming Jewish religious holiday. Panicked students began jumping out of windows and the shooting continued for several minutes.
Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld says the attacker was armed with a Kalashnikov rifle and was killed on the scene.
"What I can say is that the attacker entered the main gate of the school, went through the entrance of the schools, opened fire on a number of students and then was himself shot and killed at the entrance to the library," said Rosenfeld.
Police have identified the gunman as a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem.
Moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack. However, a statement from the ruling Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip praised the attack, saying it would not be the last. A spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry says the attack was designed to derail peace talks, but he says the talks will continue.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department condemned the shooting as an "act of terror" and extended condolences to the victims' families.
Mark Regev a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says terrorist attacks like the one Thursday evening do not help the peace process.
"As much as my country and my government wants to move forward in peace with Palestinians, Hamas and the other extremists are the greatest single problem in moving forward in peace," said Regev. "There cannot be a peace process as long as people do not stand up and oppose this sort of extremism, hatred and bloodshed."
The attack comes as tensions are high in the Palestinian territories following a week of intense violence in the Gaza Strip where more than 120 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces over the past week in operations against Palestinian militants firing rockets at southern Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ended a visit to the region on Wednesday by getting moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to peace talks with Israel that he had suspended because of the situation in Gaza.
Thursday's attack appeared to be carefully targeted. The Merkaz Harav seminary is closely linked with the Jewish settler movement in the West Bank, and many settler leaders have studied there. Witnesses say many of the students at the seminary are on active military duty and are armed, and that the attacker was killed by such a student, possibly saving the lives of many others