JERUSALEM, (AP) – Peace talks with the Palestinians will proceed this week despite a shooting attack at a Jerusalem religious seminary that killed eight Israelis, Israeli officials said.
Police across the country were on alert Sunday for possible additional attacks. Meanwhile, an Israeli soldier wounded by Gaza militants in a border ambush on Thursday died of his wounds, the military said. He was the second soldier to die as a result of the attack, and the fourth soldier killed in Gaza violence this month.
Israeli officials confirmed Saturday that the talks would continue, but spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no official announcement. Hours earlier, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel not to abandon peace efforts.
The shooting attack in Jerusalem on Thursday, combined with relentless Gaza-Israel violence that has killed dozens, have threatened the U.S.-backed talks. On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was due to meet with James Jones, a retired U.S. general who is Washington’s security envoy to peace talks.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Sunday that officers across Israel were maintaining “a high level of security in general around public areas — bus stations, centers of cities, market areas,” malls and schools. Security forces had no information on specific attack plans, Rosenfeld said.
Those killed in the Jerusalem attack were students at the Jewish seminary, one 26 years old and the others between the ages of 15 and 19. Israeli police have arrested eight people in connection to the attack, they said Saturday. The gunman did not meet the typical profile of Palestinian attackers, police said.
“He is not known to the security forces,” Jerusalem police commander Aharon Franco told Channel Two TV. “He was a normal man, who worked as a driver, who was going to wed soon.” Relatives of the man, Alaa Abu Dheim, said he had been distraught over the violence in Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in his first response to the shooting attack, called it “horrible.” Militants launching rockets from Gaza and those involved in the shooting attack had the same purpose, Olmert said Saturday.
“The perpetrators of both intend to make our lives unbearable,” Olmert told an international women’s day event outside Tel Aviv. “This won’t happen.”
Last week, Abbas briefly called off negotiations after more than 120 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, were killed in Israeli military operations in Gaza against rocket squads operating from the Hamas-controlled territory.
But he resumed talks under pressure from visiting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and on Saturday he urged that negotiations continue.
“Despite all the circumstances we’re living through and all the attacks we’re experiencing, we insist on peace. There is no other path,” said Abbas, who has also condemned the Jerusalem attack.
Israel and Abbas’ West Bank government renewed negotiations, frozen seven years earlier, at an international conference in November in Annapolis, Md. Government spokesman Mark Regev said Saturday that Israel “remains committed to the Annapolis framework” — another indication talks would go on.