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Hamas Flip-Flops On Seminary Attack Claim

Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip on Friday backtracked on their claim of responsibility for a deadly attack on a Jerusalem rabbinical seminary that killed eight Israelis.

A U.S. State Department official tells CBS News that an American was among the eight dead. The U.S. student killed was Avraham David Moses, 16, CBS News reporter Charles Wolfson reports. Another American was "severely" wounded in the attack, the State Department said.

Ibrahim Daher, head of Hamas' al-Aqsa radio, said his station put out an earlier claim of responsibility prematurely, based on confused information.

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas' military wing, confirmed the group was not taking credit for the attack - at least yet.

"There may be a later announcement ... But we don't claim this honor yet," he said.

Hamas militants had issued a statement Friday saying the attack was in response to the week's violence in the Gaza Strip.

A Hamas radio presenter said the group's military wing had "promised a jolting response" to this week's violence in the Gaza Strip in which more than 120 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military, many of them in the northern Gaza town Jebaliya.

The radio referred to the Jerusalem attack as "the fruits of what happened in Jebaliya" and called on believers to "celebrate this victory against the brutal enemy."

Later, Ibrahim Daher, head of Hamas' al-Aqsa radio, said his station had put out the earlier claim of responsibility prematurely, based on confused information.

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas' military wing, confirmed the group was not taking credit for the attack - at least yet.

"There may be a later announcement ... But we don't claim this honor yet," he said.

The attack prompted celebrations in Gaza where Palestinians took to the streets firing in the air and passing out candy.

The earlier Hamas announcement came as thousands of mourners marched in funeral processions for the dead students.

CBS News correspondent Robert Berger reports that the country is on high alert following the shooting rampage. However, while Israel slapped a closure on the West Bank, an Israeli official indicated that fledgling peace talks with the Palestinians would go on despite the violence.

On Friday, thousands of Israelis gathered outside the bullet-scarred seminary to begin funeral processions for the students.

Thousands of shocked Israelis gathered at the Jerusalem Seminary where the shooting occurred to mourn the dead. A bearded rabbi recited Hebrew psalms line by line, the crowd repeating after him, in memory of the dead students, one of them 26 years old and the rest teenagers between ages 15 and 19. People packed nearby balconies to observe the ceremony, after which the bodies were to be taken for burial.

The victims had been studying in a packed library when a Palestinian gunman from East Jerusalem stormed in and began shooting.

Students jumped out of windows in panic. Some died while clenching holy books drenched in blood.

Police said an Israeli soldier in the area shot and killed the gunman, who worked as a driver for the school.

It was the first major attack in Jerusalem in four years, and the deadliest incident in Israel since a suicide bomber killed 11 people in Tel Aviv on April 17, 2006.

The shooting came on the heels of a surge in fighting between Israelis and Gaza's Hamas rulers that killed three Israelis and 120 Palestinians, roughly half of them civilians, according to Palestinian officials. The violence continued on Friday, when the body of a 40-year-old militant was brought to a hospital in northern Gaza. Medics said they had been told he was killed by Israeli tank fire. The army said it was unaware of the incident.

For the most part, however, Gaza was quiet on Friday.

Israel will push ahead with peace talks "so as not to punish moderate Palestinians for actions by people who are not just our enemies but theirs as well," an Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the government had yet to make an official announcement.

The attack Thursday was the second crisis to roil the fragile talks this week. Earlier in the week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended negotiations because of a spike in violence in the Gaza Strip, but later backed down under pressure from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in the region to push the talks forward.

It wasn't clear if Israel would respond with more military operations, though Hamas' claim of responsibility made that seem more likely.

An Israeli government official urged the moderate Palestinian leadership based in the West Bank to do more to rein in militants, which he said was a requirement for successful peace talks.

"Talks will go nowhere unless we get the issue of terrorism under control. If we have talks on Monday and bombs going off on Tuesday, talks will become meaningless," said Mark Regev, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman.

Regev said that even though the attacker was from east Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty, the shooting had almost certainly been organized in the West Bank. He would not confirm that Israel had reached a decision to continue peace talks, but did not deny the other official's statement that negotiations would go on.

Rice, who strongly denounced the attack, told Abbas in a phone call Friday that she would do everything in her power to restore calm as soon as possible, said Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an aide to Abbas.

After the attack on the seminary, students gathered outside the library and screamed for revenge, shouting, "Death to Arabs," while in Hamas-controlled Gaza thousands of jubilant Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate.

The attacker was Alaa Abu Dheim, a 25-year-old from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, according to his family, who set up a mourning tent outside their home and hung green Hamas flags along with one yellow flag of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

His family said several relatives had been taken for questioning by Israeli police. They described him as quiet and intensely religious, but said he was not a member of a militant group and had planned to get married in the summer.

Abu Dheim had been transfixed in recent days by the news from Gaza, said his sister, Iman Abu Dheim. "He told me he wasn't able to sleep because of the grief," she said. His family last saw him when he left for evening prayers Thursday, she said.

"We are proud and happy, and everyone in Jabel Mukaber is proud of him," said a cousin, who identified herself as Umm Fadi.

Israeli police confirmed the attacker was from Jabel Mukaber in east Jerusalem, where Palestinian residents hold Israeli ID cards that give them freedom of movement in Israel, and had worked as a driver. Several residents of Jabel Mukaber said Abu Dheim had been a driver at the seminary he attacked, but neither his relatives or police would confirm that.

Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate Palestinian president with whom Israel is negotiating a peace agreement, condemned the attack.

The attacker walked through the seminary's main gate and entered the library, where witnesses said some 80 students were gathered. He carried an assault rifle and pistol, and used both weapons in the attack, leaving at least six empty bullet clips on the floor, police said. Rescue workers said nine people were wounded, three seriously.

Yehuda Meshi Zahav, head of the Zaka rescue service, entered the library after the attack. "The whole building looked like a slaughterhouse. The floor was covered in blood," he said. "The floors are littered with holy books covered in blood."

Police later said they found the gunman's vehicle nearby.

David Simchon, head of the seminary's high school, said the gunman was finally killed by a seminary graduate who is an army officer and lives nearby. The officer rushed into the seminary with his weapon and killed the gunman, he told Israel Radio.

The seminary, a prestigious center of Jewish studies, largely produced the ideology behind the Jewish settlement movement in the West Bank and educated its leaders. It serves some 400 high school students, young Israeli soldiers and adults, and many of them carry arms.

At mosques in Gaza City and the northern Gaza Strip, many residents performed prayers of thanksgiving - only performed in cases of great victory to thank God.

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