Attack at Jerusalem Synagogue Places Israel and Palestine Further on Edge

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Attack at Jerusalem Synagogue Places Israel and Palestine Further on Edge

Two Palestinian gunmen reportedly killed by police after attack that left four worshippers dead, including three US citizens

 

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man prays as Israeli rescue workers clean the scene of a shooting attack in a Synagogue in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014. Two Palestinians stormed a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday, attacking worshippers praying inside with knives, axes and guns, and killing four people before they were killed in a shootout with police, officials said. (Photo: AP/Ariel Schalit)

Update (12:18 PM EST):

The US State Department has confirmed that three of the people killed in Tuesday's attack at a synagogue in Jerusalem were American citizens, as the Associated Press' Matt Lee reported via his Twitter account:

The Guardian reports that following the positive identification of the men who perpetrated the attack, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu order the homes of the men to be destroyed. As Ofir Gendelman, the official spokesman for the prime minister, tweeted:

Earlier:

A daytime attack by men armed with guns and other weapons at a synagogue in Jerusalem left at least six people dead on Tuesday, including four people attending worship and the two alleged attackers who were killed by Israeli police at the scene.

In the wake of this summer's brutal assault by Israel on the Gaza Strip and simmering tensions in east Jerusalem and the wider occupied territories, the latest violence—and the reaction to it—will likely send already elevated Israeli/Palestinian tensions soaring.

According to the Ma'an News Agency:

Two Palestinians armed with a gun and axes attacked a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday killing four Israelis, police said.

"There are four dead and six injured, among them two policemen," police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement.

The attack struck during morning prayers at a synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood in the southwest of the city.

The two assailants were shot dead, she said.

"Two terrorists, apparently from East Jerusalem, entered a yeshiva (Jewish seminary) in Har Nof and attacked worshipers with axes and a pistol," she said.

"The two terrorists were neutralized," she added, using a police euphemism for killed.

Israeli media identified the Palestinian suspects in the attack as Ghassan Abu Jamal and his cousin Uday from Jabal al-Mukabbir neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

Palestinian sources also confirmed the identity of the two men.

Putting the synagogue attack in context of recent events, Ma'an notes that tensions have been boiling in Jerusualem in recent weeks "amid various Israeli limitations and threats on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in addition to police killings of Palestinian suspects in deadly stabbing and vehicle attacks."

The Associated Press reports:

The attack, the deadliest in Jerusalem in years, is bound to ratchet up fears of sustained violence in the city, already on edge amid soaring tensions over a contested holy site.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel will "respond harshly," describing the attack as a "cruel murder of Jews who came to pray and were killed by despicable murderers." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he spoke to Netanyahu after the assault and denounced it as an "act of pure terror and senseless brutality and violence."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, the first time he has done so since a recent spike in deadly violence against Israelis. He also called for an end to Israeli "provocations" surrounding the sacred site.

In a statement, Abbas' office said he "condemns the killing of the worshippers in a synagogue in west Jerusalem." The statement called for an end to the "invasion" of the mosque at the holy site and a halt to "incitement" by Israeli government ministers.

Israeli police called the incident a terrorist attack and said the two Palestinian assailants were cousins from east Jerusalem.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small militant group, said the cousins were among its members. A PFLP statement did not specify whether the group instructed the cousins to carry out the attack.

Though they claim no knowledge or support for it, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad released statements justifying the attack—with Hamas describing it as "a response to continued Israeli crimes." Meanwhile, President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, condemned it categorically, saying he deplored "the killing of civilians from any side" and denounced "the whole cycle of violence," according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency in the occupied West Bank.

In response to the synagogue killings, at least one member of the Israeli government called for the demolition of the suspects’ homes. According to other sources, Israeli security forces had already been to the east Jerusalem home where the two cousins lived. According to Ma'an, as many as a dozen members of the family were detained and the property searched.

In Jerusalem, as the Guardian reports, "there are fears of revenge attacks on Palestinians from hardline Israelis, after at least one group organized a protest rally."

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