Israel: ‘We will respond with a heavy hand’ after synagogue attack kills 4
JERUSALEM (CNN) — Two knife- and ax-wielding Palestinian men broke into a Jerusalem synagogue Tuesday morning and killed four Israeli worshipers, Israeli police said.
Police responded and shot and killed the attackers, spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told CNN. Authorities said the men were cousins who came from East Jerusalem and also had a handgun.
Six others were wounded during the attack in the Har Nof area of West Jerusalem, including two responding police officers, Rosenfeld said.
Jerusalem has been on edge because of a series of deadly stabbings and vehicles attacks. The synagogue attack is the deadliest in Jerusalem since a man with an automatic weapon killed eight seminary students in March 2008.
Later on Tuesday, Israeli security forces moved into the slain attackers’ neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber and clashed with residents, arresting nine people, police said. No details were available on the charges.
“We’re continuing to search the neighborhood to make sure there are not any further terrorists,” Rosenfeld said.
Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told CNN’s “New Morning” on Tuesday that the Israeli police presence will be beefed up. “We’ve got to make sure there are no copycat attacks,” he said.
Netanyahu summoned top aides to a “security consultation” later Tuesday in Jerusalem, his office announced.
“We will respond with a heavy hand to the brutal murder of Jews who came to pray and were met by reprehensible murderers,” Netanyahu’s office posted on his official Twitter page.
“This is the direct result of incitement being led by Hamas & Abu Mazen (a reference to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas), incitement which the international community is irresponsibly ignoring,” he added.
A Hamas spokesman said the attack was a response to the death of a Palestinian bus driver under disputed circumstances. But Hamas did not claim responsibility for the Jerusalem attack Tuesday.
‘There will be more revolution’
“The operation in Jerusalem is a response to the killing of Yousuf al-Ramouni and the other ongoing crimes by occupiers in Jerusalem,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri posted on Facebook.
Hamas predicted more conflict.
“There will be more revolution in Jerusalem, and more uprising,” senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad told Al Jazeera International.
“Hamas in general supports action against the occupation,” Hamad said by phone from Gaza. “Hamas supports any military action against the occupation anywhere it can be carried out.”
Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Peter Lerner called the incident a “terror attack.”
And U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the attack in Jerusalem is “an act of pure terror.”
“This morning, today, in Jerusalem, Palestinians attacked Jews who were praying in a synagogue,” Kerry said. “People who had come to worship God in the sanctuary of a synagogue were hatched and hacked and murdered in that holy place in an act of pure terror and senseless brutality and murder.
“Our hearts go out to all Israelis for the atrocity of this event and for all the reminders of history that go with it,” Kerry added. “This simply has no place in human behavior, and we need to hear from leaders who are going to lead their people to a different place.”
Tension in Jerusalem
Rosenfeld said the attack Tuesday took place in a quiet neighborhood. “There were more than 10 people praying in the synagogue quietly,” he said.
Photos posted on Lerner’s Twitter account showed a body wrapped in a prayer shawl lying on the floor and a bloody cleaver.
Police said the synagogue attackers lived in East Jerusalem, where there has been recent unrest centered around what Jews know as the Temple Mount and Muslims refer to as the Noble Sanctuary.
Palestinians there can move more freely about the city than Palestinians living in Gaza, who must pass through stringent checkpoints.
The synagogue attack occurred not far from where al-Ramouni, the Palestinian bus driver, was found hanged on Sunday, CNN’s Ben Wedeman reported from Jerusalem.
Police said the death was a suicide, but the driver’s brother described seeing bruises and “signs of blood” on his brother’s back.
A lawyer for the bus driver’s family, Mohammad Mahmoud, said an autopsy report ruled out the possibility of suicide.
But Rosenfeld of the Israeli police said the autopsy was carried out by an external organization that found no evidence of a criminal incident and therefore that al-Ramouni caused his own death.
Also on Sunday, an Israeli was stabbed with a screwdriver near central Jerusalem. That stabbing victim was taken to the hospital in moderate condition, Rosenfeld said Sunday.
‘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 incident took place at the same hitchhiking spot where three Israeli teens were kidnapped earlier this year; they were later killed.
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 are more difficult to stop than in the past because they seem to be carried out by individuals.
“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 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.”