JERUSALEM — A gunman identified as a member of the militant Hamas group killed one Israeli woman and injured four others in Jerusalem on Sunday, Israeli police said.
He was shot dead by police after opening fire at a crowd in Jerusalem’s Old City, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
In a brief statement posted on Facebook, Hamas called the attack in Jerusalem’s Old City the start of a “resistance escalation.” Israel launched air strikes after the attack, and Palestinian hospitals reported Israeli helicopter fire that landed near two Palestinian hospitals in northern Gaza, residents and Reuters reported.
An Israeli security guard shot the assailant, Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
No further details were immediately available about the attack, which took place at King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the site of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at times of tension.
Police said the assailant took cover in the hotel elevator before attacking the crowd in the street.
In an unusual incident, rescue workers who rushed to the scene of the shooting told Israel Army Radio they found a nine-month-old baby in the elevator with her mother, who died in the attack.
The terrorist killed the child, then immediately succumbed to his wounds, the police spokesman said. Four others were also injured.
The women were in their 30s and the baby was 1-year-old, Sara Carroll, director of the World Center of Mennonite Churches in Israel, told the Times of Israel.
“We’re all thinking of the baby,” Carroll said. “We’re calling this a miracle. … We’re praying for them to be in good health.”
Hamas, an Islamist group that controls Gaza, confirmed in a statement that the shooter was one of its members, and its organization called the attack a “new line of action” to “stand against the crimes of the occupation.”
Earlier Sunday, Israeli police recommended travel warnings for Israelis living in Arab east Jerusalem, citing threats to infrastructure in Jerusalem’s Old City, a weekend of Palestinian demonstrations and more confrontations between police and Muslims praying at the al-Aqsa mosque.
“There are credible terror threats against Israeli citizens and institutions in the Old City, and thus Israel has issued a warning,” police said in a statement. “There are specific terror threats for buildings in the Old City and potentially all over Jerusalem.”
The warning came amid a wave of attacks on Israeli Arabs in recent months, as Israelis allege that Israel has targeted Islamic sites for punishment after the installation of metal detectors at entrances to the Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem last month.
According to the police, a Palestinian man who was involved in the attack on Sunday on the stairwell of the King David Hotel threatened to blow himself up and, in a subsequent exchange of fire, exchanged shots with the police guard in the lower-level elevators.
The assailant was equipped with a rifle, stun grenade and video camera, Rosenfeld said.
Israel issued a statement Sunday afternoon warning citizens of the Israel Defense Forces of potential attacks against them.
A series of small, seemingly unconnected attacks on Israelis over the weekend in which Palestinians took cover inside cars and homes, had the military warning that “there are ongoing events of a serious nature.”
The statement did not mention the attack on Sunday in Jerusalem’s Old City, but said: “In the past few hours, the IDF and Shin Bet have detected recent incitement in Palestinian public expression on social media in social networking sites inciting to terror activity.”
The violence has intensified in recent weeks as Israeli security forces and the police have intensified security operations in an attempt to stop an increase in such attacks.
Israeli forces say they have intercepted numerous extremist attacks, including suicide bombings and shootings, over the past six months. There were more than 240 attacks from July 1 through January 31, Israel said. Most involved Palestinian attackers firing at Israeli soldiers or police, stabbing pedestrians or throwing Molotov cocktails. At least 26 Israelis were killed, and 123 others were wounded.
The Israeli military frequently cites Palestinian incitement on social media accounts. Palestinians say the Israeli actions amount to collective punishment. Israel says the Iron Dome anti-missile system and the existence of the barrier separating Israeli from Palestinian territory prevents Palestinian groups from getting to weapons and explosives quickly.