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Israel vows harsh response to deadly synagogue attack

Israel vows harsh response to deadly synagogue attack

Netanyahu calls Abbas' condemnation insufficient, orders the killers' homes razed

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel vowed harsh retaliation Tuesday for a Palestinian attack that killed five people and left blood-smeared prayer books and shawls on the floor of a synagogue in Jerusalem — an assault that sharply escalated already-high tensions after weeks of religious violence.

The attack during morning prayers in the west Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof was carried out by two Palestinian cousins wielding meat cleavers, knives and a handgun.

They were shot to death by police after the deadliest assault in the holy city since 2008.

Four of the dead were rabbis and one was a police officer who died of his wounds hours after the attack.

Three of the rabbis were born in the United States and the fourth was born in England, although all held dual Israeli citizenship. Five others were wounded.

"To see Jews wearing tefillin and wrapped in the tallit lying in pools of blood, I wondered if I was imagining scenes from the Holocaust," said Yehuda Meshi Zahav, the veteran leader of a religious emergency-response team, describing the straps and prayer shawls worn by the worshippers.

"It was a massacre of Jews at prayer."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, the first time he has done so in the wave of deadly violence against Israelis.

But he also called for an end to Israeli "provocations" surrounding Jerusalem's shrines that are sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

President Barack Obama called the attack "horrific" and without justification, urging cooperation from both sides to ease tensions and adding that too many Israelis and Palestinians have died in recent months.

"Too many Israelis have died; too many Palestinians have died," Obama said at the White House. "At this difficult time, I think it's important for both Palestinians and Israelis to try to work together to lower tensions and reject violence.

"We have to remind ourselves that the majority of Palestinians and Israelis overwhelmingly want peace."

Tuesday's attack, however, appeared a turning point, with the gruesome scene in a house of worship shocking a nation long accustomed to violence.

The government released a photo of a meat cleaver it said came from the crime scene. Government video showed blood-soaked prayer books and prayer shawls. Thick streaks of blood smeared the floor.

"I saw people lying on the floor, blood everywhere," said Yosef Posternak, who was at the synagogue in the quiet neighborhood that has a large community of English-speaking immigrants.

"People were trying to fight with (the attackers), but they didn't have much of a chance," Posternak told Israel Radio.

In one of Israel's first acts of retaliation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the demolitions of the homes of the attackers.

But halting further violence could prove to be a tough challenge as police confront a new threat: Lightly armed assailants from annexed east Jerusalem who hold residency rights that allow them to move freely throughout the country.

Netanyahu condemned the deaths of the "innocent and pure Jews." In a nationally televised address, he accused Abbas of inciting the recent violence and said the Palestinian leader's condemnation of the attack was insufficient.

Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that runs the Gaza Strip, praised the attack. In Gaza, dozens celebrated in the streets, with some offering trays full of candy.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Netanyahu and expressed condolences for the attack. "This simply has no place in human behavior," Kerry told reporters in London.

The U.S.-born victims were identified as Moshe TXversky, 59, Aryeh Kupinsky, 43, and Kalman Levine, 55, originally from the Kansas City area. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the British man was Avraham Goldberg, 68, who immigrated to Israel in 1993.

Twersky, a native of Boston, was the head of the Toras Moshe Yeshiva, a seminary for English-speaking students. He was the son of Rabbi Isador Twersky, founder of Harvard University's Center for Jewish Studies, and a grandson of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a luminary in the world of modern Orthodox Jewry.

Thousands of people attended a joint funeral for Kupinsky, Levine and Goldberg before sundown — held outside the synagogue where they were killed.

In recent weeks, Jerusalem has seen its worst sustained bout of violence since a Palestinian uprising a decade ago. Palestinian assailants have carried out a pair of deadly attacks by ramming their cars into crowded train stations, while a gunman shot and seriously wounded a Jewish activist who has campaigned for greater access to the Temple Mount.

The hilltop compound, in Jerusalem's Old City, has been at the heart of the tensions. It is revered by Jews as the site of the ancient Hebrew temples. For Muslims, it is the Noble Sanctuary, home to the al-Aqsa Mosque and the iconic Dome of the Rock.

Under a long-standing arrangement, Jews are permitted to visit but not to pray. A growing number of visits by Jewish worshippers, many who seek the right to pray there, has drawn Muslim accusations that Israel is secretly trying to take over the site and sparked violent clashes between young Palestinians and Israeli police.

Netanyahu has repeatedly said he will not change that arrangement, but the violence has spread beyond Jerusalem, with deadly stabbings in Tel Aviv and the West Bank last week.

Late Tuesday, several hundred Jewish youths marched through downtown Jerusalem, blocking traffic and chanting, "Death to Arabs." Police reported at least 10 arrests.

Police identified the synagogue attackers as Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal, cousins from the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood in east Jerusalem.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police were still trying to determine how the men had chosen their target.

Clashes later broke out outside the assailants' home, where dozens of police officers had converged.

Residents hurled stones at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades. Residents said 14 members of the Abu Jamal family were arrested.

This report includes material from the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

"Too many Israelis have died; too many Palestinians have died. At this difficult time, I think it's important for both Palestinians and Israelis to tiy to work together to lower tensions and reject violence. We have to remind ourselves that the majority of Palestinians and Israelis overwhelmingly want peace."

President Barack Obama

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