JERUSALEM (AP) — Two Palestinians stormed a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday, attacking worshippers praying inside with knives, axes and guns, and killing four people before they were killed in a shootout with police, officials said.
The attack, the deadliest in Jerusalem in years, is bound to ratchet up fears of sustained violence in the city, already on edge amid soaring tensions over a contested holy site.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel will “respond harshly” to the attack, which he denounced as a “cruel murder of Jews who came to pray and were killed by despicable murderers.”
Israeli police described the assault as a terrorist attack and said the two Palestinian assailants were cousins from east Jerusalem. Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that runs the Gaza Strip, praised the attack but stopped short of claiming responsibility.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said six people were also wounded in the attack, including two police officers. Four of the wounded were reported in serious condition. He said police were searching the area for other suspects.
Associated Press footage from the scene showed the synagogue, in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighborhood, surrounded by police and rescue workers following the attack.
Wounded worshippers were being assisted by paramedics and a bloodied butcher’s knife lay near the scene of the attack.
“I tried to escape. The man with the knife approached me. There was a chair and table between us … my prayer shawl got caught. I left it there and escaped,” Yossi, who was praying at the synagogue at the time of the attack, told Israeli Channel 2 TV. He declined to give his last name.
A photo in Israeli media from inside the synagogue showed what appeared to be a body on the floor draped in a prayer shawl, with blood smattered nearby.
Police spokeswoman Lubi Samri said the attackers were Palestinians from east Jerusalem, which has been the scene of relentless clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in recent months.
Jerusalem has seen a spate of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis. At least six people have been killed in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Tel Aviv in recent weeks, prior to Tuesday’s casualties. (read more)