Israeli officials accused Palestinian leaders of inciting a religious conflict between Jews and Muslims following a brutal attack on worshipers in a Jerusalem synagogue early on Tuesday morning.
The attack resulted in four deaths and eight injuries.
Two attackers entered a synagogue in the Har Nof neighbourhood of Jerusalem carrying “knives and axes”, said Israeli Police Spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.
The Israeli foreign ministry reported the two men were also in possession of guns, which they fired during the attack. The attackers were shot dead by police in a shootout.
Three are “seriously wounded and one critically”, who is thought to be a policeman.
The Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claimed the two attackers were Ghassan and Uday Abu Gamal, who are members of the group. The group said that the two men “killed four settlers, including a Zionist security man and a Rabbi”, adding that the attack is a “natural response to the crimes of the occupation and a form of popular resistance”.
Riots broke out in the Jabel Mukaber neighbourhood of East Jerusalem where the two attackers originated from.
Mosa Abu Marzook , deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, praised the attackers saying the Palestinian people are “on the threshold of a new intifada (uprising)”. The group also claimed the attack was in response for the alleged killing of a Palestinian bus driver who was found hanged in Jerusalem late on Sunday. Israeli police said it was an instance of suicide.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack in a statement released by the presidency on Tuesday via state news. In the same statement he called for an “end to the intrusions of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the settlers’ provocations and incitement of some Israeli ministers”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas and Abbas for the attack, saying it was “the direct result of the incitement being led by Hamas and Abu Mazen [Abbas], incitement which the international community is irresponsibly ignoring”.
He vowed to respond with a “heavy hand to the brutal murder of Jews who came to pray and were met by reprehensible murderers”. Netanyahu was set to hold a “security consultation” in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Tuesday: “Abbas has deliberately turned the conflict into a religious conflict between Jews and Muslims.” He added that the Palestinian leader’s “incitement… including his statement that impure Jews may not enter the Temple Mount, provides the guidance for such heinous attacks”.
Tensions between Palestinians and Israelis have increased recently with a particular focus over the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which has been the scene of violent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians prompting international concern. The site is of religious importance to the Jewish people as well, known as the Temple Mount.
Israel insists it seeks to maintain the “status quo” at the religious site which “enables Muslims to pray on the mount and access to visitors of all other religions”, according to an Israeli government video on the issue.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the attack alongside his United Kingdom Counterpart Phillip Hammond during a visit to London on Tuesday. Kerry spoke with Netanyahu by telephone to offer his condolences. Hammond “condemned in the strongest possible terms the appalling attack”. He called on all sides to “do everything possible to de-escalate tensions, which are extremely dangerous for the Israeli and Palestinian communities”.
The European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council said on Monday it is “gravely concerned at the growing tension”. The council condemned the Israeli announcement of new settlements in the West Bank as well as demolitions, “including of EU and Member States funded projects”.
The council called on “all parties to refrain from any action that would worsen the situation by way of incitement”.
The international community had hopes to use an open-ended ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian factions in Gaza as a potential springboard for further talks towards a lasting agreement based upon the two-state solution. Egypt, who brokered the ceasefire, postponed the talks at the end of October following a deadly attack in the Sinai Peninsula.