Jerusalem 'terror attacks': Four killed as Palestinians attack synagogue with knives and guns

One Briton and three US citizens die as conflict descends into religious war

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Two Palestinians armed with knives, an axe and a pistol attacked worshippers during morning prayers in a Jerusalem synagogue today, killing four people as the ongoing conflict appeared to be morphing into religious warfare.

Medical workers said at least eight people were wounded, one critically and three seriously. The two assailants were shot dead by police. One of the fatalities was a prominent rabbi, an American, Moshe Twersky.  Avraham Goldberg, who was born in Britain, was also murdered, along with two other US citizens.

It was the deadliest incident in Jerusalem in six years and came after two car attacks by Palestinians in recent weeks that killed four people. For Israelis it was the most serious incident of the mounting unrest because it occurred in an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood in Jewish West Jerusalem, giving the sense that nowhere is safe.

A prime cause of the violence is the Palestinian perception that Israel is threatening Islam’s third-holiest shrine, al-Aqsa mosque, despite statements by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that no changes are planned at the site, which is also Judaism’s holiest spot, the Temple Mount.

Witnesses said that about 25 people were praying shortly after 7am when the attack began. “I looked up and saw someone shooting people at point-blank range,” Yosef Pasternak, a worshipper, told state-run Israel Radio. “Then someone came in with what looked like a butcher’s knife and he went wild.”

Akiva Pollack, a paramedic, treated the bleeding worshippers. “There was a guy sitting with his prayer shawl and phylacteries, he was completely bleeding. I asked him what happened. He said someone shot him. But I picked up his shirt and saw he had tremendous cuts on his back and chest. I ran in with the other paramedic to the entrance and saw a guy in prayer shawl and phylacteries lying on the floor in a big puddle of blood.

Avraham Goldberg was killed along with four other worshippers by two Palestinians in a Jerusalem synagogue

“We turned him over to see if he was dead or alive, and someone started shooting towards us. I jumped out and so did the other paramedic. I heard the paramedic screaming, he broke his ankle. I grabbed him and pulled away. Then the police came, heavy shooting started. I saw a cop collapsing, he was shot in the head. I incubated him and took him to hospital.”

Uri Maklef, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, said the attack “is a formative event that requires new thinking” about how to deal with Palestinians. Yoram Cohen, the head of the Shin Bet internal security service, told Knesset members that politicians should stop visiting the Temple Mount because this fuels tensions with the entire Muslim world. “The religious aspect that the conflict is wearing is very dangerous and explosive because it affects the Palestinians and Muslims the world over,” Haaretz newspaper quoted Mr Cohen as saying. “Everything must be done to calm things down.”

Mr Maklef, from the Torah Judaism party, was outraged: “Blood and torn limbs during prayer is a continuation of the images we saw during the Holocaust. This wasn’t a chance attack, it is going up a level, it’s planned murder.”

In Gaza, Hani Thawabta, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) , a left-wing faction of the PLO, said his group claims, “full responsibility for the execution of this heroic operation”. But Mr Cohen said the assailants had not trained as part of any group and a PFLP leader in the West Bank, Khalida Jarrar, said she had no comment on the attack.

Mr Netanyahu vowed to respond “with a heavy hand” and said such violence is the “direct result of incitement” by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, which applauded the attack.

He added that this is “incitement the international community has been irresponsibly ignoring”. Mr Abbas issued a statement saying he “condemns the attack on Jewish worshippers in one of their places of prayer in West Jerusalem and condemns the killing of civilians no matter who is doing it”. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, termed the attack “pure terror”.

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the media about the Jerusalem synagogue attack (Getty)

The assailants were cousins from Jabal Mukaber in East Jerusalem – Uday Abu Jamal, 22, and Ghassan Abu Jamal, 32, a father of three. Both were construction workers. Security forces arrested Ghassan’s brothers, wife and mother, relatives said. An uncle of Uday, who identified himself only as Abu Salah, held up their pictures and said of the attack. “For every action there is a reaction. Every day there is news of al-Aqsa and Jerusalem and what they watch on television causes a reaction. The pressure built up and the moment comes right for an explosion. And they did explode.”

Abu Salah said that Israeli strictures on Palestinian access to the mosque, while allowing far-right Israelis to visit the compound, were triggering violence. “Netanyahu is pressing people to do such actions. It is a religious war that Netanyahu started.”

The bloody scene of the deadly attack (Getty Images)

In a bid to cool things down, Israel lifted the age restrictions for Muslim prayers last Friday and Israel’s Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich said he is considering halting the visits of Israeli politicians.

Another relative, Sufyan Abu Jamal, speculated that Ghassan may have been motivated to kill Israelis by reports in the Palestinian media that Israelis killed a bus driver who was found hanging in his vehicle on Sunday. Israeli police say an autopsy shows he killed himself.

Tensions have been high since June, when a Palestinian 16-year-old, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was brutally murdered by Israelis in apparent retaliation for the killings of three Israeli teenagers.