What just happened in Jerusalem?
Two Palestinian men armed with axes, meat cleavers, and a pistol, entered a synagogue complex in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of West Jerusalem on Tuesday morning and killed four rabbis, one from the UK and three from United States (all had dual-citizenship in Israel). Israeli police killed the assailants in a gun battle that critically wounded one officer.
According to the New York Times, relatives identified the attackers as two cousins, Odai Abed Abu Jamal, 22, and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal, 32.
What was the motive for the attack?
According to the relatives of the killers, they were motivated by what they saw as threats to the revered plateau that contains al-Haram al-Sharif (known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism) and the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
Orthodox Jewish campaigners in Israel have increasingly been challenging the long-standing ban on Jews praying at the Temple Mount. Since the Crusades, the Muslim community of Jerusalem has managed the site.
Has any group taken credit for the attack?
The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine took credit for the attack, though the police are still investigating whether the attackers were part of any group.
Who is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine?
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is a Palestinian Marxist-Leninist and Arab nationalist organization committed to the destruction of Israel. The group is the second largest faction with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1993, Israel officially recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.
What has been the official response by Palestinian groups?
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement saying: “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.”
Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s central committee, said on Al Jazeera early Tuesday that the attack on the synagogue complex was “a normal reaction to the Israeli oppression.”
Hamas, which controls Gaza, praised the attack and said it was in revenge for the death of a Palestinian bus driver found hanged inside a vehicle in Jerusalem on Monday. Islamic Jihad, another militant group, also praised the attack.
According to the New York Times, in Gaza City, “people fired celebratory gunshots in the air. Praise for God and the attackers poured from mosque loudspeakers shortly after the attacks; later, some distributed sweets and paraded through the streets singing victory songs. Palestinian television ran photographs of similar outbursts of joy in Bethlehem, in the West Bank.”
How will Israel respond?
According to the BBC, Israel has not yet detailed its response to the attack, although the internal security minister said he would seek a partial easing of gun controls to allow military officers and security guards to carry arms off-duty.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has, however, pledges a ‘heavy hand’ response and has ordered the demolition of the Abu Jamal cousins’ homes, his spokesman says.