Palestinian gunman kills 2 in Jerusalem as upsurge feared

Jerusalem (AFP) - A Palestinian opened fire from a car in Jerusalem Sunday and again as Israeli police chased him, killing an officer and a woman, officials said, as fears grew of a new spike in violence.

The gunman, reportedly scheduled to begin a prison term the same day, was killed soon after carrying out the attack near police headquarters, close to the line dividing mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem from the city's mostly Jewish western sector.

Police officer Yosef Kirma, 29, was killed in the attack, police said, while Israeli media identified the second victim as 60-year-old Israeli woman Levana Melihi.

Five people were wounded, medics said.

It was among the deadliest attacks in Jerusalem over the past year.

The shooting rampage came two days before the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, which begins on Tuesday.

Police said the 39-year-old assailant fired in the direction of a tram station in the area, seriously wounding a woman and then continued at high speed and shot at a car, leaving another woman badly hurt.

The attacker then headed toward the nearby neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, where a number of upscale hotels are located, and got out of his car, police said.

As officers approached him by motorcycle, he opened fire on them.

Police returned fire and killed him, but two officers were wounded, including the one who was killed, they said.

- Due for prison term -

Police said the attacker was from the Silwan area of east Jerusalem.

Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, said he was a member of the Islamist movement and praised the attack without claiming responsibility for it.

Palestinian media identified the man as Misbah Abu Sbeih and said he was due to begin a four-month prison term on Sunday for attacking an Israeli police officer in 2013.

The reports said Abu Sbeih was a well-known figure at Al-Aqsa mosque and was banned from entering for several months.

In his last public Facebook post on October 7, Abu Sbeih wrote about his longing for the holy site and said "Al-Aqsa is a responsibility you have been entrusted with."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the police, saying they had "acted rapidly and very firmly against the terrorist, who was eliminated."

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the attack "a natural reaction to the crimes and violations of the occupation against our people".

The UN special envoy for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, and the United States, condemned the attack and slammed Hamas for "glorifying" it.

"There is absolutely no justification for the taking of innocent lives," US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said. "We also condemn the statements glorifying this reprehensible and cowardly attack."

"It is deplorable and unacceptable that Hamas and others choose to glorify such acts which undermine the possibility of a peaceful future for both Palestinians and Israelis," Mladenov said in a statement.

France echoed the condemnation saying it was opposed "to any form of terrorism".

- Concerns of fresh violence -

Al-Aqsa mosque compound is holy to both Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.

The site is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Palestinians fearing that Israel may one day seek to assert further control over it.

Last year's Jewish high holidays led to clashes and marked the start of an surge in Palestinian gun, knife and car-ramming attacks.

Violence since October 2015 has killed at least 232 Palestinians, 36 Israelis, two Americans, one Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese national, according to an AFP count.

Most of the Palestinians were carrying out attacks, according to Israeli authorities.

Others were shot dead during protests and clashes, while some were killed in air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

Many analysts say Palestinian frustration with the Israeli occupation and settlement-building in the West Bank, the complete lack of progress in peace efforts and their own fractured leadership have fed the unrest.

Israel says incitement by Palestinian leaders and media is a leading cause of the violence.

The vast majority of the attacks have been carried out by lone-wolf assailants, Israeli authorities say. Many have been young people, including teenagers.

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