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Arab Israel Conflict
Six dead after Jerusalem synagogue attack
From the Financial Times of Tue, 18 Nov 2014 09:14:58 GMT
Israeli Zaka emergency services volunteers carry the body of a Palestinian assailant who was shot dead while attacking a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem on November 18, 2014. Two Palestinians armed with a gun and axes attacked a Jerusalem synagogue killing four Israelis, police said. AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON (Photo credit should read GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)©Getty

Six people are dead after an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue by knife and axe-wielding men on Tuesday morning that marked the bloodiest incident yet in more than four months of unrest in the divided city.

Hamas, the militant Islamist group against which Israel fought a war this summer in the Gaza Strip, praised the attack, to which Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, vowed to respond “with a heavy hand”. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, condemned the attack.

Israeli police said that two Palestinian men from East Jerusalem entered a packed synagogue in Har Nof, northwest of the city centre, on Tuesday morning wielding knives, axes and a pistol, and attacked worshippers inside.

Four Israelis were killed and six others injured and taken to hospital, and the two men who carried out the attack were shot in a gun battle outside the synagogue, and killed at the scene.

Police said both of the men were from East Jerusalem and after the attack security forces were seen carrying out arrests in the Jabel al-Mukaber neighbourhood of the eastern Arab half of the city. Israeli and Palestinian local media identified the suspects in the attack as Ghassan Abu Jamal and his cousin Udayy, both from Jabal al-Mukaber.

Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said that the area of the attack was still being searched for other suspects.

Emergency vehicles could be heard rushing to the scene at about 7am, and police helicopters circled over Jerusalem, where authorities have in recent weeks deployed about 1,000 more police to put down regular protests by Palestinians in the city’s east.

The attack will raise concerns in the region and abroad about the overtly religious overtones that have marked the recent wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence in Jerusalem, which began in July on the eve of the Gaza war with the lynching of a Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir.

Over the past month, five Israelis and a foreign visitor to Jerusalem have been run over deliberately or stabbed by Palestinians and about a dozen Palestinians have died, including the men accused of carrying out the attacks.

Israeli police and Palestinian youths have also clashed at Haram al-Sharif, the sensitive Muslim holy site in Jerusalem, where extremist Israeli politicians are calling for a reversal of the status quo that prohibits Jewish prayer at the site.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, said that Tuesday morning’s synagogue attack was “a reaction to the execution of the martyr Al-Ramouni and a reaction to the Occupation’s crimes in al-Aqsa”.

Youssef Al-Ramouni, a Palestinian bus driver, was found hanged in his vehicle on Monday. Palestinians said they had evidence the bus driver had been killed, but Israeli police – citing autopsy results – said there was no evidence of foul play.

Tuesday morning’s synagogue attack was unusual in that it took place in a west Jerusalem neighbourhood inside Israel’s internationally recognised border, and not in the Israeli-occupied east that has seen regular Palestinian protests by children and teenagers and car attacks, which took place along the rail line. Har Nof is populated largely by members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Mr Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman, in his statement called for continuing “operations of revenge and resistance against the Zionist occupation”. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, another Palestinian militant faction active in Gaza, also praised the attack and said it was “a reaction against the crimes of the occupation in Jerusalem”.

Mr Netanyahu on Tuesday morning blamed Mr Abbas, whose Fatah movement sits in a reconciliation government with Hamas, of fomenting the unrest that led to the attack.

“This is the direct result of the incitement being led by Hamas and Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas],” incitement which the international community is irresponsibly ignoring,” the Israeli leader said in a statement. “We will respond with a heavy hand to the brutal murder of Jews who came to pray and were met by reprehensible murderers.”

Mr Abbas issued a statement “condemning the killing of worhippers in a house of God in west Jerusalem”. The Palestinian president also called for a halt on Israeli “raids into al-Aqsa” and “provocation” by Israeli settlers on Palestinian lands.

John Kerry, US secretary of state, called the attack an “act of pure terror” and called on Palestinian leaders to condemn it “in the most powerful terms”.

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