Early this morning, two attackers wielding pistols and axes entered a synagogue complex atop the predominantly Ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighborhood in Jerusalem during morning prayers and began assaulting people inside. Four Jews were reportedly killed in the attack while six others were injured; both attackers, allegedly from East Jerusalem’s Jabel Mukaber neighborhood, were killed by police during the shootout. According to initial reports, the attackers, named Said Abu Jamal and Uday Warsan, were cousins, and one of them reportedly worked in a small grocery store near the synagogue.
According to one of the survivors, the perpetrators reportedly shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they attacked worshippers. The attack was planned around the time of Shaharit morning prayers, and many of those wounded exited the synagogue covered in blood. In an interview at the scene, one survivor of the attack explained, 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.”
One of the paramedics on the scene gave a grim interview after the incident to a local Guardian reporter. “As I went further into the synagogue, I heard sounds of shooting and saw another man lying in a pool of blood.” Additional reports suggest that one paramedic was injured after attending to a policeman who had been shot in the head during a gunfire exchange. Such reports suggest that an extended gunfight occurred between the attackers and locally deployed Israeli police.
Hours after the incident, the Population Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a secular Marxist militant group, climbed responsibility for the attack. While the group has recently increased its calls for militant attacks via social media campaigns, its not uncommon for the PFLP to claim responsibility for attacks that it may or may not have carried out. In this context, it wouldn’t be surprising if additional groups came out of the woodwork in claiming responsibility over the next 24-48 hours.
That said, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials praised the attack, calling it revenge for the death of Hassan Yousef Rammouni, a Palestinian bus driver found dead in a Jerusalem bus terminal two days ago. According to an Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, “The operation in Jerusalem is a response to the murder of the martyr Yusuf Rammouni and to the series of crimes by the occupier at Al-Aqsa. Hamas calls for more operations like it.”
Despite claims that Rammouni could have been killed, official autopsy reports from the Abu Kabir Medical Center revealed yesterday that the bus driver died by suicide. Despite large support for the attack from the aforementioned Islamist militant groups, PA President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack in a press release this morning. “The presidency condemns the attack on Jewish worshippers in their place of prayer and condemns the killing of civilians no matter who is doing it.”
In response, PM Netanyahu will convene a security council meeting this afternoon. In a brief press statement, Netanyahu explained, “This is the direct result of the incitement led by Hamas and Abu Mazen. Incitement that the international community irresponsibly ignores. We will respond with a strong hand to the cruel murder of Jews who came to pray, and were caught by dark murderous hands.”
Additionally, Uri Maklev, an MK involved in the building of the Har Nof synagogue, has called for increased travel restrictions against Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. In an interview following the attack, Maklev explained, “They came here to kill Jews…to kill them like animals.” He continued by criticizing the government’s policy of work permits for Palestinians working in West Jerusalem, a move that would like be perceived as controversial by both the Palestinian population of Jerusalem as well as Israel’s left-wing.
Amidst America’s lackluster diplomatic efforts of recent, US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was recently in the region in an effort to quell the current wave of violence, gave a statement about the attack this morning. “Innocent people who had come to worship died in the sanctuary of a synagogue. They were hatcheted, hacked and murdered in that holy place in an act of pure terror and senseless brutality and murder. I call on Palestinians at every single level of leadership to condemn this in the most powerful terms. This violence has no place anywhere, particularly after the discussion that we just had the other day in Amman. To have this kind of act, which is a pure result of incitement, of calls for ‘days of rage,’ of just irresponsibility, is unacceptable. The Palestinian leadership must condemn this and they must begin to take serious steps to restrain any kind of incitement … and exhibit the kind of leadership that is necessary to put this region on a different path. This simply has no place in human behaviour and we need to hear from leaders who are going to lead their people to a different place.”
While tensions have been at fever pitch for several months in East Jerusalem and in the vicinity of the old city, this morning’s attack in Har Nof, an Ultra-Orthodox enclave at the Western edge of the city, underscores an increase in the scope of Palestinian militancy in the capital. Due to its geographic location, until today, Har Nof has not witnessed any violent acts of militancy since the end of Operation Protective Edge. In this context, Israel’s response to the incident is likely going to increase by the scale and scope of security measures which have already been implemented in the capital in an effort to quell the current level of violence.