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Palestinians Kill 4 Rabbis in Jerusalem Synagogue Attack

Israeli police say at least four Israelis have been killed and six wounded in an attack by two Palestinians at a Synagogue in Jerusalem. The two attackers were killed by police.

Har Nof, Jerusalem.
Har Nof, Jerusalem.

The attack occurred during morning prayers at a synagogue in an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood with a large number of Western immigrants in West Jerusalem.

Israeli police identified the people killed in the attack, saying all four were Israelis with dual nationality, three of whom were Americans and a fourth British.

Israeli Police Spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said the synagogue was full of people praying.

"Two terrorists attacked using knives, an axe and also a pistol, opening fire at everyone inside the synagogue. Our police officers that arrived at the scene engaged contact with those terrorists and shot and killed the terrorists within moments," Rosenfeld said.

It is the first known shooting attack on a house of worship in Jerusalem since 1994 when a Jewish settler, American-born physician Baruch Goldstein, opened fire at a shrine venerated by both Muslims and Jews, killing 29 Palestinian worshippers and wounding 125 others.

Attack condemned

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement promised to respond harshly and blamed the attack on what he called incitement by the militant Palestinian group Hamas and the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas condemned the attack and said he condemns the killing of civilians no matter who is doing it.

President Barack Obama strongly condemned the attack.

"There is and can be no justification for such attacks against innocent civilians," the president said in a statement, adding that the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the victims and their families.

"At this sensitive moment in Jerusalem, it is all the more important for Israeli and Palestinian leaders and ordinary citizens to work cooperatively together to lower tensions, reject violence, and seek a path forward towards peace," Obama said.

Earlier Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Netanyahu by telephone to express his condolences.

Kerry also told reporters in London that the attack was an "act of pure terror" and urged Palestinian leaders to condemn it.

“The Palestinian leadership must condemn this and they must begin to take serious steps to restrain any kind of incitement that comes from their language, from other people's language and exhibit the kind of leadership that is necessary to put this region on a different path," Kerry said.

He put the responsibility on Palestinian leaders to end the incitement he says has led to such attacks in recent weeks.

Hamas praised the attack, calling it a response to continued Israeli crimes and the desecration of Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque.

The mosque sits on the Noble Sanctuary or Temple Mount that is holy to Muslims and Jews.

Increased tensions

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has surged in recent weeks fueled by rising tension over the site.

Non-Muslims may visit the site but may not pray there according to an agreement dating to the 1967 Israeli-Arab war. Some nationalist Israelis have been going to the site to pray, causing demonstrations and riots in East Jerusalem.

Five Israelis and one foreigner have been killed in recent weeks by Palestinian attackers using knives and vehicles. More than a dozen Palestinians have been killed in clashes with police.

In the most recent incident, a Palestinian bus driver was found hanged in his bus Sunday night. An official autopsy determined that the death was a suicide, but the victim's family rejected the finding, saying the body showed signs of violence.

Al Pessin contributed to this report from London. Some material for this report came from AP and AFP.