Palestinians armed with guns, knives and axes killed four worshipers at a synagogue in Jerusalem, Israeli police said, in the latest burst of violence to fuel speculation of a brewing Palestinian uprising.
Two assailants from east Jerusalem were also shot, police said. At least six people were wounded, some critically, including the two policemen who killed the assailants in a gun battle, officials said. The attack in the western part of the city was the deadliest in Jerusalem in years and the most serious since months of Palestinian violence erupted in July.
“Neighbors reported screams from the synagogue during morning prayers. Then there were reports of many wounded,” Mati Goldstein from the Zaka emergency service, said on Army Radio. “The two assailants, armed with axes and a least one gun went on a killing spree and started to attack the worshipers.”
Violence has been mounting in Jerusalem since a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem was burned alive in July in suspected retribution for the killing of three Israeli Jewish youths shot to death by their kidnappers in the West Bank.
The unrest has turned deadlier in recent weeks as tensions mounted over a contested Jerusalem shrine known to Muslims as the al-Aqsa mosque complex and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The discovery of a hanged Palestinian bus driver inside his vehicle has also ignited turmoil.
While an Israeli autopsy concluded the death was a suicide, some Palestinians have accused Israeli extremists of killing the driver.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday condemned “the heinous crime” that claimed his life, according to the Palestinian Wafa news agency. This month he called on Palestinians to bar Jews from the al-Aqsa compound.
Aryeh Deri, a lawmaker from the ultra orthodox Shas party, said the attack was a declaration of war on Jews because of their faith.
“The Jews who came to worship are lying on the floor, their blood mixed with prayer shawls and phylacteries,” he told Army Radio. “It is hard for me not to burst into tears. They have declared war on us because we are Jews.” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in remarks broadcast on Israel Radio that security at synagogues and heavily trafficked sites would be reinforced.
Ahmed Assaf, a spokesman for Abbas’s Fatah party, blamed the Israeli government for the unrest in Jerusalem. “We have warned before that these attacks might lead to a religious war,” he said by phone.
The assault today was reminiscent of a 2008 assault in the city where eight seminary students were shot and killed by a Palestinian gunman who entered the library where they were studying.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who oversees the police force, said officers would root out “all terrorists” and called on residents not to take law into their own hands. Asked if a new Palestinian uprising, or intifada, had erupted, he called it “grassroots terrorism.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was holding consultations with senior security officials, Army Radio said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the attack on Abbas, commonly known as Abu Mazen, and the Hamas militant group that rules the Gaza Strip.
“It is the direct result of incitement led by Hamas and Abu Mazen, incitement the international community irresponsibly ignores,” Netanyahu said. “We will respond with an iron fist.”
While no group claimed responsibility for the attack, Islamic militant movements based in Gaza praised it.
“We admire the attackers’ heroism,” Husam Badran, a Hamas spokesman, said in a post on his Facebook page.
Badran called the attack a response to “the successive crimes of the occupation,” including the death of the bus driver. The U.S. and Israel classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Islamic Jihad called the attack on the synagogue a “practical response to the occupation’s crimes in Jerusalem and against the al-Aqsa mosque.”
Source: BLOOMBERG / Nov. 18, 2014