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Thousands Mourn Massacre at Jerusalem Seminary; Hamas Backtracks on Responsibility Claim

Thousands gathered to mourn eight yeshiva students killed after a Palestinian gunman went on a shooting rampage at a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem, as Hamas backtracked on its claim of responsibility for the massacre.

Masses of mourners marched in funeral processions after a rabbi recited Hebrew psalms line by line, the crowd repeating them after him in memory of the dead. Israeli officials said the victims were between ages 15 and 19 except one, who was 26. They identified one of the slain as 16-year-old Avraham David Moses, an American citizen whose parents moved to Israel in the 1990s.

Shortly after Hamas Radio went on the air with the claim of responsibility, sources told FOX News that a few officials within the militant organization were backing away from the boast.

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

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

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

Photos: Massacre in Jerusalem

It was not immediately clear whether a militant group had orchestrated the shooting.

A Hamas radio presenter earlier had said the group's military wing had "promised a jolting response" to the Israeli offensive, and called on believers to "celebrate this victory against the brutal enemy."

Israel slapped a closure on the West Bank and beefed up security and emergency forces around Jerusalem and other areas in the wake of the shooting, the first major attack in Jerusalem in four years and the deadliest in Israel since a homicide bomber killed 11 people in Tel Aviv on April 17, 2006.

Video: Father Morris Discusses the Tragedy

The attack came on the heels of an Israeli offensive on Gaza that Palestinian officials say killed more than 120. The campaign targeted militants who have been barraging southern Israel with rockets. Four Israelis have also been killed in fighting since last week.

Some Israeli lawmakers called on their government to break off peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' moderate, West Bank-based government, but an Israeli official said the negotiations would continue.

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

Israeli police on Thursday night took three remaining brothers and their father into custody for questioning. The 25-year-old gunman, who was shot and killed during the attack, was identified as Alaa Abu Dheim of east Jerusalem; his fiance was detained by Israeli police on Friday morning.

The family of Abu Dheim said he had carried out the attack on the seminary, a prestigious center of Jewish studies identified with the leadership of the Jewish settlement movement in the West Bank. They described him as intensely religious but said he was not a member of a militant group and had planned to get married in the summer.

Sources told FOX News he called his sisters on Thursday night just to see how they were doing.

Abu Dheim had been transfixed in recent days by the news of bloodshed in Gaza, said his sister, Iman Abu Dheim.

"He told me he wasn't able to sleep because of the grief," she said.

Initial reports had said Abu Dheim had been in prison, but FOX News learned this is not accurate.

Abu Dheim reportedly drove a shuttle bus for Arab students, not students from the Jewish religious school that was attacked.

His cousin, who was not identified, said there is "no one to help us but God. ... We don't know what got into his mind. He never spoke about Gaza."

Abu Dheim's family set up a mourning tent outside their home and hung green Hamas flags along with one yellow flag of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Israeli defense officials said the gunman came from Jabel Mukaber in east Jerusalem, where Palestinian residents hold ID cards giving them freedom of movement in Israel, unlike Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter told mourners that Arabs in east Jerusalem who have been involved in militant activity should be expelled to the West Bank.

Mark Regev, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman, said that the shooting almost certainly had 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.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the attacker walked through the Mercaz Harav yeshiva seminary's main gate and entered the library, where witnesses said some 80 students were gathered. He carried an assault rifle and pistol, and opened fire with both weapons.

Students scrambled to flee, jumping out of windows as the gunman fired. Holy books drenched in blood littered the floor. Rosenfeld said at least six empty bullet clips were found on the floor.

David Simchon, head of the seminary, said the students had been preparing a celebration for the new month of the Jewish calendar, which includes the holiday of Purim.

"We were planning to have a Purim party here tonight and instead we had a massacre," he told Channel 2 TV.

A seminary graduate who is an army officer and lives nearby rushed into the seminary with his weapon and killed the gunman, Simchon told Israel Radio.

"He saw the terrorist shooting, and with amazing resourcefulness he went into one of the rooms and managed to kill him," he said.

The seminary serves some 400 high school students and young Israeli soldiers, and many of them carry arms.

Jewish seminarians gathered outside the library and screamed for revenge, shouting, "Death to Arabs," while in Hamas-controlled Gaza thousands of Palestinians celebrated in the streets.

Abu Dheim's family set up a mourning tent outside their home and hung green Hamas flags along with one yellow flag of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Family members said several relatives had already been taken for questioning by Israeli police.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who called the attack an "act of terror and depravity," 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.

Abbas, who condemned the seminary attack, suspended negotiations this week because of the spike in violence in the Gaza Strip, but later backed down under pressure from U.S. Rice, who was in the region to push the talks forward.