Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for unity after four worshipers killed in Jerusalem synagogue
Jerusalem ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) – A Jerusalem synagogue turned from peaceful sanctuary to house of horrors within moments Tuesday, after two Palestinian cousins wielding a gun and butcher knives attacked during morning prayers — a terror attack that Israel’s leader characterized as “blood libel” fanned by Palestinian leaders.
Addressing reporters Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for national unity against “those human animals who committed this massacre” and against those — singling out Hamas, the Islamic movement and the Palestinian Authority — who he claims “disseminate libels against the state of Israel.”
“There are those who wish to uproot us from the capital, from our land,” he said, referring to Jerusalem. “They will not be successful… We have to unify forces.”
Netanyahu spoke hours after the latest act of violence to afflict the region, this time at a synagogue in West Jerusalem’s Har Nof area.
Photos taken inside the Jewish house of worship, and released by Israeli officials, painted a grim scene — from lifeless bodies sprawled on a floor to a shattered pair of glasses to blood seemingly everywhere, drenching holy books, prayer shawls and walls.
Three dual U.S.-Israeli citizens and a British-Israeli citizen died in the attack before police shot and killed the two assailants.
The terror attack — the deadliest in Jerusalem since a man with an automatic weapon killed eight seminary students in March 2008 — came at a particularly tense time in that city, and the region at large. It follows a series of recent deadly stabbings and vehicle incidents that, while not the large-scale suicide bombings that defined last decade’s second intifada or the rocket attacks from Gaza earlier this year, have left Jerusalem on edge.
“While Israelis are a tough breed, repeated, totally unpredictable attacks are bound to take their toll,” said David Harris, an expert with The Israel Project. “Is a mother going to allow her child to walk to school, to catch a bus to a movie theater or (ride a train) to visit a friend?”
Netanyahu blasts ‘incitement’ by Palestinian leaders
The answer to what’s next came quickly, as Israeli authorities moved into the slain attackers’ East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber to demolish their homes on Netanyahu’s order. The Palestinians’ official WAFA news agency reported 13 people were arrested, including an al-Aqsa Mosque guard.
Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, said that authorities were also “beefing up the security presence” around Jerusalem.
“The goal is to make sure that there are not copycat attacks,” Regev said.
The war of words between the two sides, meanwhile, continued.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, something that Netanyahu said he was “glad” for but insisted “is not enough.”
“(Abbas) does not send out terrorists, he doesn’t directly encourage acts of terror, and this is good,” the Prime Minister said, echoing an assessment by an Israeli security chief. “On the other hand, the incitement of the Palestinian Authority — and he heads the Palestinian Authority — and even some things he says … encourage terrorism, in terms of incitement (of) tensions that run high.”
There was no such equivocation about Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza. It’s been at odds with Israel and also with Abbas’ Fatah movement, which controls the West Bank.
Hamas did not claim responsibility for the synagogue attack, though it didn’t back away from it either. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the group, instead linked the attack to the discovery Sunday of an Palestinian bus driver hanged in his bus not far from where Tuesday’s attack occurred. (For his part, Netanyahu said that claims the bus driver was killed were lies and that his death was ruled a suicide.)
Senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad predicted to Al Jazeera International that “there will be more revolution in Jerusalem, and more uprising.”
“Hamas in general supports action against the occupation,” Hamad said. “Hamas supports any military action against the occupation anywhere it can be carried out.”
Four rabbis killed
The latest example of such an action came at 7 a.m. Tuesday, when two Palestinian men entered a synagogue in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, where about 30 worshipers in prayer shawls and phylacteries were doing their morning prayers.
“They began attacking worshipers, stabbing them before opening fire,” Israel’s foreign ministry said.
The four killed were all rabbis: Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, 58; Aryeh Kupinsky, 43; Moshe Twersky, 59; and Kalman Levine, 55. Goldberg was a dual British-Israeli citizen, and the other three were U.S.-Israeli citizens — which is why the FBI is investigating the attack, according to a U.S. law enforcement official.
“When four great men, wonderful men, wise in Torah study, are slaughtered while praying in public, there is no public grieving greater than that,” said a rabbi who eulogized the men later Tuesday, before their burial.
Eight others were wounded — including three who were seriously hurt and a policeman who was critically wounded, according to the foreign ministry.
Officials overseas such as British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond strongly condemned the killings, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro called them “a barbaric new low in the sad and outrageous history of such attacks.”
“Tragically, this is not the first loss of life that we have seen in recent months,” U.S. President Barack Obama said after condemning “in the strongest terms” attacks he said were “a tragedy” for both Israel and the United States. “Too many Israelis have died, too many Palestinians have died. And at this difficult time, I think it’s important for both Palestinians and Israelis to work together to lower tensions and reject violence.”
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claims responsibility
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), PFLP’s military wing, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, a small left-wing group within the Palestine Liberation Organisation that is usually dwarfed by Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement and the militant Hamas organisation, came to the fore today by claiming responsibility for the attack on the Jerusalem synagogue that left four worshippers dead.
In contrast to recent Palestinian car attacks on Israeli pedestrians that seemed impromptu and not linked to an organisation, yesterday’s assault appeared well planned. The Har Nof neighbourhood is not close to any Arab districts and it would be impossible to navigate to the target without foreknowledge. The assumption last night was that the attackers, or those sending them, must have staked out the synagogue to find out what time it would be full of worshippers. “The PFLP is a small organisation in Jerusalem and the area, but if they make something, they make it big to show they still exist,” said Shaul Bartal, a lecturer in Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University.
In 2001, PFLP operatives assassinated the Tourism Minister, Rehavam Zeevi, at a Jerusalem hotel in revenge for Israel’s killing of its leader, Abu Ali Mustafa. During last summer’s Gaza war the PFLP announced that it had fired missiles at Israel from the coastal enclave.
But on the whole, the PFLP has been a marginal force in the Palestinian armed struggle. Its heyday was in 1970 when it hijacked international airliners, triggering King Hussein’s crackdown on the PLO in Jordan.
Sufyan Abu Jamal, a cousin of the two synagogue assailants, said he was not aware that Uday Abu Jamal and Ghassan Abu Jamal were members of any Palestinian group. “Ghassan’s behaviour was normal in recent weeks,” he said. Jamal Abu Jamal, a PFLP member who is another cousin of the two, was arrested by Israeli forces two weeks ago, he added.
Ma’an, a semi-official Palestinian news agency, identified the two men as Ghassan Abu Jamal and his cousin, Udayy.
Whether their actions were part of a coordinated campaign or a spontaneous reprisal, Tuesday’s attack raises the specter of yet more violence against civilians.
The latest wave began earlier this year with the kidnapping of three Israeli teens, who were later found dead. Reprisal attacks, rocket fire and retaliatory airstrikes followed that incident, with more than 2,000 Palestinians and 67 Israelis reportedly killed after weeks of heavy fighting.
Much of the most recent unrest has been centered around Jerusalem. That includes the discovery of the body of Palestinian bus driver Yousuf al-Ramouni on Sunday, the same day an Israeli was stabbed with a screwdriver near central Jerusalem.
‘There is no organization’
Last week, a 20-year-old was stabbed and killed in Tel Aviv, and three people were stabbed — one fatally — near the entrance to a settlement in the West Bank, the same spot where the three Israeli teens were kidnapped.
Analysts point out that large-scale violence has decreased in Jerusalem in recent years, partly because of increased security but also because Palestinian and Israeli leaders are cooperating behind the scenes.
But former Israeli National Security Adviser Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror said the recent acts of violence may be more difficult to stop than in the past because they seem to be carried out by individuals and not planned out and executed by a group.
“There is no organization behind it,” he said, noting that all someone has to do is take a knife from their kitchen and attack. “… I don’t see any measures that can be taken to stop an individual (like that).”
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator, told CNN that incidents such as the “lynching” of the bus driver “have provoked the Palestinians to the point where many of them are retaliating individually by resorting to violence.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat — whose city is about two-thirds Jewish and one-third Arab — said attacks like the one at the synagogue are “not just an Israeli problem.”
“If the world doesn’t unite against terrorism and give zero excuses for terrorism, this will haunt he world,” he said. “This will happen everywhere in the world.”
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