BEIRUT – Two Palestinian men armed with axes and a firearm stormed a synagogue in Jerusalem Tuesday morning, killing four worshipers in the deadliest attack in the city in years amid spiraling violence in the West Bank.
The Kehillas Bnei Torah Synagogue in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Har Nof was a scene of absolute carnage, with blood splattered across the floor following the morning attack on a prayer gathering that also left at least eight others injured.
The two attackers—identified as Ouday and Ghassan Abu Jamal by the Palestinian WAFA news agency—were both shot dead by security forces, Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said.
He added on his official Twitter account that a “police officer [is] in critical condition after [the] shoot-out with [the] terrorists.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately condemned the attack, and warned his country would respond in force.
“We will respond with a heavy hand to the brutal murder of Jews who came to pray and were met by reprehensible murderers,” he wrote on his Twitter account.
Netanyahu also wrote that “this horrendous terror attack in a house of worship is the direct result of President [Mahmoud] Abbas's campaign of incitement.”
Abbas, in turn, issued a statement condemning the incident and calling on Israel to “end the causes of such attacks and current tension by ending its occupation.”
Following the attack, Israeli security forces swept the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood of East Jerusalem where the assailants hailed from, sparking rioting by the residents.
Israeli forces arrested nine rioters in the area, the police spokesperson wrote on Twitter, while WAFA reported that 13 Palestinians had been detained in East Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat “urged Israeli citizens not to take the law into their own hands,” Haaretz reported, as far-right Jewish protesters gathered at the site of Tuesday morning’s violence to denounce the attack.
Claim of responsibility
Three Palestinian groups—Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—praised the attack and called it a “natural reaction.”
The PFLP’s Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades military wing said the two attackers were members of the party and labeled the action a “form of popular resistance.”
Reports circulated that PFLP officials had claimed responsibility for the incident; however the pa party did not issue any official statement to this effect.
Meanwhile, Hamas representative in Lebanon Ali Barake said his Islamist party “blesses” the actions of the two Palestinian attackers.
“We bless what happened today and consider it a heroic act, the Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves and their sanctuaries,” he told NOW.
“This operation is a message to the enemy that enough is enough, and that the Palestinian people can no longer tolerate the attacks against Al-Aqsa Mosque and against [Jerusalem].”
Following the synagogue killing, UN Special Coordinator for the Mideast Peace Process Robert Serry calling “on all sides to do everything they can possibly do to avoid further escalation in the already very tense situation in Jerusalem.”
Tuesday’s attack comes a day after Palestinian bus driver Yousef Hassan al-Ramouni was found hung to death in a bus depot in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Hotzvim.
Israeli police ruled his death a suicide; however Ramouni’s co-workers said the body bore the marks of bruises and his family insisted he had been killed. Protests and clashes erupted in East Jerusalem’s Palestinian-populated quarters after news of Ramouni’s death spread.
A day before on Sunday, an Israeli settler had been stabbed with a screwdriver by a Palestinian in Jerusalem, the latest in a series of “lone wolf” attacks in which Palestinian suspects have stabbed or run over Israelis.
Fears have mounted that the wave of violence in the West Bank could portend a third intifada, although Abbas has stressed in recent weeks that he is not calling for a new uprising against the Israelis.
However, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in a November 10 interview with Al-Sharq newspaper warned that the only way to stop Israel from “Judaizing” the Al-Aqsa Mosque was through “resistance and revolution in the face of Israeli occupation.”
Hamas’ Barake told NOW that “if the Zionist enemy continues storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque, then the Palestinian reactions will carry on and turn into a third intifada, in which all the Palestinian people would participate.”
He blasted the Palestinian Authority, calling on Abbas to “stop the security coordination with the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and allow our Palestinian people to confront the occupation, with all forms of resistance.”
“The Palestinian people will turn everything they own into a weapon for resistance,” he warned.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Al-Haram al-Sharif compound has been the center of tension between Jews and Muslims, who both consider the area as a holy site.
In recent months, Orthodox Jews have campaigned for the right to pray in the compound, which has not been open for Jewish prayer since Israel seized Jerusalem in 1967. A number of Israeli parliamentarians have given political backing to the campaign.
Palestinians object vociferously to the campaign, an in early November clashes erupted after rocks were thrown at Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount compound. Israeli authorities then shut down access to the area, sparking angry Palestinian responses.
Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli authorities to implement tension-reducing measures in Jersualem, and on Friday Israel eased access to the Temple Mount, allowing Muslims of all ages to enter the area for the first time in months.