Hamas: Jerusalem attack was a “response to Israeli crimes”
Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said on Tuesday that the bloodiest attack in Jerusalem in years “was a response to Israeli crimes”. Duration: 01:04
Hamas: Jerusalem attack was a "response to Israeli crimes"
Four Israelis killed in Jerusalem synagogue attack
/ Jerusalem (Undefined) – 18 November 2014 13:42 – AFP (John Davison)
Two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers burst into a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday and killed four Israelis before being shot dead in the bloodiest attack in the city in years.
It was a rare attack on a place of worship and sent shock waves through the country, raising fears that the already deadly Israel-Palestinian conflict was taking on a dangerous religious dimension.
The bloodshed took place as months of unrest gripped the city’s annexed Arab eastern sector, which has resulted in a string of deadly attacks by lone Palestinians and was further enflamed by the death of a Palestinian bus driver in controversial circumstances earlier this week.
But none was as serious as Tuesday’s assault on the synagogue in an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood on the city’s western outskirts as worshippers gathered for the morning prayers.
Medics and police said four worshippers were killed, among them a rabbi, and another eight people wounded, one critically and three seriously.
The attack began shortly before 7 am (0500 GMT) as worshippers were attending prayers at a synagogue in a Jewish seminary in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood.
Police said the assailants burst in with meat cleavers and a pistol and began attacking worshippers. Two policemen engaged in gunbattle with them in which the attackers were eventually shot dead, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
The assailants were identified by family members as Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal, cousins from the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Jabal Mukaber. Both were in their 20s.
Israel vowed a harsh response with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the bloodshed at the synagogue was a “direct result” of incitement by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Abbas himself condemned the killings but Hamas welcomed the attack, describing it as a fitting “response” to Israeli actions in annexed east Jerusalem.
Analysts warned it could escalate a situation already fraught with tension.
“This event has the potential of being a game changer,” said Kobi Michael, senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, adding it created a sense that things were “out of control”.
– Bloodbath –
Witnesses spoke of a bloodbath.
“There were people running from the synagogue, and a man sitting on the pavement covered in blood,” said local resident Sarah Abrahams, who was walking past when it happened.
“Two people came out with their faces half missing, looking like they’d been attacked with knives,” she said as hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews pressed up against the police tape, a few chanting “Death to terrorists.”
Speaking to journalists at the scene, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat expressed shock at the scale of the bloodshed.
“To slaughter innocent people while they pray… it’s insane,” he said.
Shortly afterwards, police went to Jabal Mukaber and rounded up family members, sparking clashes with stone-throwing youths, relatives said.
Police confirmed arresting nine suspects.
Dozens of Palestinians hurled rocks at police who responded with tear gas and other riot dispersal means, they added.
– East Jerusalem tinderbox –
Arab east Jerusalem has been a tinderbox since early July when Jewish extremists killed a 16-year-old Palestinian in revenge for the murder of three Jewish teenagers, sparking a wave of clashes and rioting which has shown no sign of letting up.
The prime minister pointed the finger at both Abbas and Hamas over the attack, saying it was “the direct result of (their) incitement.
“We will respond with a heavy hand to the brutal murder of Jews who came to pray and were met by reprehensible murderers.”
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon vowed Israel would hunt down those who sent the perpetrators “wherever they are and in whatever way necessary, both inside and outside Israel’s borders.”
And Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch pledged to ease controls on carrying weapons for self-defence in a move which would apply to anyone licenced to carry a gun, such as private security guards and off-duty army officers.
Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Abbas of encouraging deadly attacks after the Palestinian leader called for action following tensions at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a site holy to both Muslims and Jews.
Kerry condemned Tuesday’s attack on the synagogue as an “act of pure terror and senseless brutality,” and called on the Palestinian leadership to denounce it.
But Hamas praised the assault, saying it was a “response” to the death on Sunday of the Palestinian bus driver from east Jerusalem who was found hanged inside his vehicle.
“Hamas calls for more operations like it,” a spokesman said.
Police said there was no evidence of foul play in the driver’s death in findings supported by a post-mortem, but colleagues and family said there were signs of violence on his body and claimed he was murdered.
The Palestinian pathologist who attended the post-mortem also ruled out suicide, suggesting he may have been drugged then strangled, the family’s lawyer said.