Hundreds Mourn Victims of Attack on Jewish Seminary

Outside the scene of yesterday's devastating shootings at a Jerusalem seminary, mourners gathered Friday to honor the dead.

Hundreds of students, friends and families shared their grief for the eight young religious students gunned down inside the school by a resident of Arab East Jerusalem. Most of the victims were teenagers.

An emergency worker who was one of the first on the scene described how the shooting was still going on in the building when he arrived. He told ABC News that when he got inside he discovered a horrific scene with many of the young religious students lying on the ground, covered in blood, some of them clutching their books.

"There was lots of blood over there," he said. "It was a terrible scene to look at – they were all young guys in there."

The bodies wrapped in shrouds were laid in a row in front of the religious college, or Yeshiva, where the victims were killed as they studied. Police initially claimed the attacker was a former driver at the college. According to the latest reports, however, the gunman, Ala Abu Dhaim, may simply have worked as a driver nearby. The attack ended when he was shot dead by Israeli security services.

The Mercaz Harav Yeshiva is a famous religious institution established in the 1920s, before the creation of the Jewish state. The school has strong links with religious nationalism, and many of its students live in Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Israeli authorities imposed a security closure on those Palestinian areas Friday, and restricted attendance to Muslim Friday prayers in Jerusalem's Old City to those over the age of 45.

Thousands gathered near the religious college to mourn the victims of Thursday's attack.

"The time for us has come to understand that an external struggle as well as an internal struggle are raging," Rabbi Yaakov Shapira told weeping mourners outside Merkaz Harav, which he runs.

Israel remains on its highest state of alert in the aftermath of last night's attack. A Hamas official told the Reuters news agency Friday that his group claimed "full responsibility," but a seemingly contradictory statement was also issued by Hamas blessing the operation but not claiming responsibility for it. A previously unknown group with links to the armed Lebanese group Hezbollah did issue a claim, saying the attack was in retaliation for last month's assassination in Damascus of senior Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniye. That claim has not yet been verified.

In Gaza there were celebrations on the streets and bursts of gunfire in the air. Many claimed vengeance following Israel's recent military operation there, in which more than 120 Palestinians were killed.

Despite the bloodshed, Israeli politicians and their moderate Palestinian partners insist they will continue their peace talks.

There were widespread condemnations of last night's attack.

"I condemn in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack in Jerusalem that targeted innocent students at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva," U.S. President George W. Bush said in a statement released by the White House after Bush had spoken with Olmert by telephone.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice echoed his message, calling the attack an act of "terror and depravity."

Rice only just left the region, having persuaded both sides to keep talking. Last night's deaths will put new strain on the already fragile peace process.

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