- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to respond with a “heavy hand” to a grisly attack Tuesday at a Jerusalem synagogue that left five people dead, including three U.S.-Israeli citizens, as Israel-Palestinian tensions rose to their highest level since last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip.

Bristling with rage late Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu called on Israelis to “unify forces” and ordered security operatives to fan out across Jerusalem and demolish the homes of the two Palestinian cousins who were shot dead by police after storming the morning prayers at the synagogue with butcher knives and a gun. Four men, including the three Americans, were hacked to death; an Israeli police officer died later of a gunshot wound.

With images of the carnage circulating on media sites globally, the Obama administration “strongly” condemned the attack as “pure terror,” and called on Palestinian leaders to speak out against them to de-escalate tensions.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also condemned the attack, the first time he has denounced an instance of violence since the Gaza war.

The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement praised the incident — plastering social media sites with messages of praise for the attackers from supporters across the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the more moderate Palestinian Authority accused Israel of fomenting violence by blocking Muslim worshippers and sending a surge of Jewish pilgrims to a site deemed holy by both religions. Jews revere the site in Jerusalem’s Old City as the Temple Mount, home of the ancient Hebrew temples. For Muslims, it is the Noble Sanctuary, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the gold-topped Dome of the Rock.

Tension over the site in recent weeks has triggered the worst bout of violence in nearly a decade in Jerusalem — with Palestinians carrying out a pair of deadly attacks by ramming their cars into crowded train stations, and a gunman seriously wounding a Jewish activist campaigning for increased access to the site.

But tension also has been stoked by Israeli government announcements for construction of hundreds of housing units in East Jerusalem, which Palestinian leaders have long-hoped to make the capital a future state.

Obama administration officials have criticized Israeli leaders, saying the announcements were escalating an already heated situation.

President Obama issued a statement early Tuesday asserting that “at this sensitive moment in Jerusalem, it is all the more important for Israeli and Palestinian leaders and ordinary citizens to work cooperatively together to lower tensions, reject violence, and seek a path forward towards peace.”

While Mr. Obama said “there is and can be no justification for such attacks against innocent civilians,” he refrained from using the word “terrorism” to describe Tuesday’s incident.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said he had spoken with Mr. Netanyahu by telephone after the incident and asserted that American “hearts go out to all Israelis for the atrocity of this event and for all the reminders of history that come with it.”

“Palestinian leadership must condemn this and they must begin to take serious steps to restrain any kind of incitement that comes from their language, from other people’s language, and exhibit the kind of leadership that is necessary to put this region on a different path,” Mr. Kerry said.

Tuesday’s attack in the west Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof was carried out by two Palestinian cousins wielding meat cleavers, knives and a handgun. Three of the dead were born in the United States and the fourth was born in England; all held dual Israeli citizenship.

Five others were wounded in the attack, and an Israeli police officer also was killed.

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

The Foreign Ministry described the men as “rabbis,” an honorific title in ultra-Orthodox Judaism given to men who are considered pious and learned.

Mr. Twersky, a native of Boston, was the head of the Yeshiva Toras Moshe, a seminary for English-speaking students. He was the son of Rabbi Isadore 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.

Israeli authorities identified the attackers as Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal, cousins from the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Officials said it was not immediately clear how or why the men had chosen the synagogue as their target.

Mohammed Zahaikeh, a social activist in East Jerusalem, told The Associated Press that Ghassan was 27, married with two young children and worked in a clothing store. Oday, 21, was not married and was an interior decorator. He said both men were quiet, and residents were surprised by the attack.

Clashes later erupted outside the assailants’ home, where dozens of police officers had converged. Residents hurled stones at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

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

According to a report by The Jerusalem Post, social media sites linked to Hamas exploded with images praising Tuesday’s attack, including a cartoon showing a bloody meat cleaver with images of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque and the messages, “for you oh Aqsa,” and “Jerusalem resists.”

The report also cited the Hamas-affiliated Shehab News agency’s Facebook page for carrying photos from several nations, including Jordan, Iraq and Great Britain, alongside written messages of praise for the attacks.

⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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