At least four Jewish worshipers are dead, with at least four in critical or serious condition, in the wake of a terror attack at a crowded Jerusalem synagogue Tuesday morning, according to Israeli media reports.
Rabbi Moshe Twersky, 60, dean of the local Torat Moshe Yeshiva was the first victim named by Israel Radio. Twersky was the son of Rabbi Isadore Twersky, the founder of the New Harvard Center for Jewish Studies, and a scion of a noted rabbinic family.
The three other victims were named as Rabbi Avraham Goldberg, 68, Rabbi Arye Kupinsky, 43, and Rabbi Kalmen Levin, 55. One policeman is in critical condition, and is fighting for his life, according to medical officials.
Three of the victims, including Twersky, hold American citizenship, and the FBI has reportedly entered the investigation. Goldberg was British, and emigrated to Israel in 1991, according to friends.
All four lived on the same street, and left behind wives and 26 children, according to a government spokesman.
Israeli Police said two Palestinian terrorists entered the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue on Shimon Agassi St. in the city’s religious Har Nof neighborhood at about 07:00 a.m., opened fire with weapons and struck worshipers with a meat cleaver and knives.
Two police officers in the vicinity were able to shoot and kill the assailants shortly after the attack on the religious complex, located at the western edge of the capital.
Police immediately locked down the area, as ground units and helicopters sought a third accomplice, who drove the vehicle that ferried the two, Israel Radio said.
“This is the direct result of the incitement being led by Hamas and Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority – PA President Mahmoud Abbas], incitement which the international community is irresponsibly ignoring,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in comment, and will soon convene security officials to weigh responses.
“We will respond with a heavy hand to the brutal murder of Jews who came to pray and were met by reprehensible murderers. We will respond harshly,” Netanyahu said.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said, “Israel will strike terror decisively,and not allow anyone to disrupt our lives. We’ll follow the perpetrators and those who sent them.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry called Netanyahu to offer his condolences, and condemned the attack.
“This morning in Jerusalem Palestinians attacked Jews who were praying in a synagogue,” Kerry told reporters.
“People who have come to worship god in a sanctuary of a synagogue were … murdered in a holy place in an act of pure terror and senseless brutality and murder.
“I call on the Palestinian leadership at every single level to condemn this in the most powerful terms,” he added. “This violence has no place anywhere particularly after the discussion that we had just the other day in Amman.”
While an official statement from Abbas’ office said “The presidency condemns the attack on Jewish worshippers in their place of prayer and condemns the killing of civilians,” at the same time, official PA television showed images of Bethlehem residents handing out candy in the streets, in support of the attack.
The two assailants, Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal, in their 20s, were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The two are reportedly relatives of terrorists released in the prisoner swap with Hamas to gain the release of former IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.
A police spokesman told Army radio that the two terrorists, cousins, were residents of the capital’s Jabal Mukaber neighborhood. One of the terrorists apparently worked at a minimarket near the synagogue.
Arabs in the neighborhood where the two lived, and other areas of Jerusalem, clashed and hurled stones at security forces sent to the area.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said Abbas, “who is among the greatest terrorists to incite the Palestinian people, is directly responsible for the Jewish blood spilled on prayer shawls and tefillin.
“While we dealt with fantasies about the political process, the Palestinians have prepared an interlocking infrastructure of terrorism and incitement. Even the concept of concrete blocks do not stop terrorism, but rather encourage it,” he said.
“Abbas declared war on Israel, and we must respond accordingly,” Bennett declared.
“Jerusalem is in pain and and bows her head in grief,” Mayor Nir Barkat said in initial comment on the attack.
“Worshipers were slaughtered in the midst of prayer in the center of Jerusalem, in a terribly cruel murder. We will not allow this to go unchallenged,” Barkat said.
“I call on the Israeli government and security forces to allocate all the forces and resources required and the Jerusalem municipality to help them as much as possible.
“Terrorism cannot win, and – with all the difficulty – I urge everyone to go on with their daily routine and to be alert anywhere in the city.
“I promise Jerusalem’s residents that we will continue to fight with all our abilities, and will do everything to restore calm to the city,” Barkat said.
Palestinian social media wasted no time in glorifying the attack, with one Facebook poster uploading a grotesque cartoon poster showing the attack, including the terrorists shooting and stabbing worshipers, and piles of bodies. The word balloon shows an attacker brandishing a bloody knife asking, “Where are they,” referring to the Jewish worshipers.
A Hamas official posted the photo on his Facebook page.
Hamas in Gaza lauded the attack, calling it “heroic.”
“There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time,” a spokesman for the terrorist group said.
Islamic Jihad and Fatah also praised the attack, with a spokesman for the latter blaming the Israeli government for the killings.
Shas Party member Aryeh Deri, who was in the synagogue during the attack, told Army radio that the scene of carnage included blood on the pews and floor, with wounded and dead worshipers still wrapped in talit and tefillin religious garments.
“They were shouting ‘Allah Akbar,’ as they carried out the attack,” he said, and tried to call police as the murder spree unfolded.
An EMS service rescuer said they were providing initial resuscitation to the first wounded person they came across, when they came under fire from the terrorists and sought cover.
“This is the first time I’ve seen rescuers come under fire from the terrorists as they were providing aid,” said medic Ya’akov Wertheimer, who lives nearby.
In parallel, police in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, caught an unidentified Arab trying to perpetrate a copycat attack a short time after the first, according to initial reports.
The attack comes two days after severe incitement in the Palestinian media after a city bus driver was found hanged in his vehicle at a bus depot. An Israeli police autopsy said he committed suicide, but Palestinian media said he was “lynched by settlers,” a report hotly denied by Israeli officials.
Watch a video of the initial moments of the attack: