Palestinians armed with butcher’s cleavers and a gun killed four worshipers at a synagogue in Jerusalem in an attack that escalated months of violence in the city.
Three of the victims had dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, and the fourth was an Israeli and British citizen. The two assailants, both from east Jerusalem, were shot and killed, and a Palestinian group claimed responsibility. Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch urged soldiers and security guards to start carrying their weapons even when off-duty.
Medics for the Zaka emergency service said they found the victims wrapped in prayer shawls and holding prayer books lying in pools of blood. One worshiper’s arm had been chopped off, Zaka said.
Violence has gripped Jerusalem since a Palestinian teenager 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 tension has been heightened by disputes over prayer rights at the contested Jerusalem shrine known to Muslims as the al-Aqsa mosque complex and to Jews as the Temple Mount, and by the death of a Palestinian bus driver in disputed circumstances.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry blamed today’s attack on Palestinian incitement. The Israeli leader held Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers responsible.
Abbas denounced the synagogue attack and called for a sustained period of “complete calm.” The Palestinian president has urged the barring of Jews from the al-Aqsa compound and condemned as “a heinous crime” the death of the bus driver, which an Israeli autopsy determined a suicide.
Kerry, who mediated the latest round of peace talks that broke down in April, said Palestinians “must begin to take serious steps to restrain any kind of incitement that comes from their language.”
The benchmark TA-25 stock index was down 0.1 percent at 4:20 pm. The shekel weakened 0.3 percent against the dollar.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility, saying in an e-mailed statement that the attack was a “natural response” to the Israeli occupation.
Israeli emergency services members carry a body from the scene of an attack by two Palestinians on Israeli worshippers at a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem on Nov. 18, 2014.
Hamas spokesman Husam Badran, in a post on his Facebook page, called the assault a response to “the successive crimes of the occupation,” including the death of the bus driver. The website of the group, classified as terrorist by the U.S. and European Union as well as Israel, promised to avenge the driver’s death yesterday.
In several recent attacks, Palestinians have used knives or rammed into pedestrians with their cars.
Today’s attack suggests “some kind of escalation dynamic,” Mark Heller, research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said by phone.
“If they had firearms, they obviously procured them from somewhere,” he said. “It suggests something a little bit more premeditated.”
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.