Four killed in Jerusalem synagogue attack

Updated 19 November 2014

Four killed in Jerusalem synagogue attack

JERUSALEM: Two Palestinians armed with a meat cleaver and a gun killed four people in a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday before being shot dead by police, the deadliest such incident in six years in the holy city amid a surge in religious conflict.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to respond with a “heavy hand,” and again accused Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting violence in Jerusalem.
Abbas condemned the attack, which comes after a month of unrest fueled in part by a dispute over Jerusalem’s holiest shrine.
A worshipper at the service in the Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of West Jerusalem said about 25 people were praying when shooting broke out.
“I looked up and saw someone shooting people at point-blank range. Then someone came in with what looked like a butcher’s knife and he went wild,” the witness, Yosef Posternak, told Israel Radio.
Photos distributed by Israeli authorities showed a man in a Jewish prayer shawl lying dead, a bloodied butcher’s cleaver on the floor and prayer books covered in blood.
“We are viewing this as a terrorist attack,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, who confirmed the four dead and that the two assailants, both from predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, had been shot dead by police.
Israel’s ambulance service said at least eight people were seriously wounded.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said it carried out the attack, which it called a “heroic operation.”
Police identified one of the dead as Rabbi Moshe Twersky, who taught at a Jerusalem seminary. Twersky was from a Hassidic rabbinical dynasty and a grandson of Joseph Soloveitchik, a renowned Boston rabbi who died in 1993.
Ultra-Orthodox websites said Twersky and two other victims held US citizenship and that the other person killed was born in Britain. The US and British embassies could not immediately confirm the information.
In a statement, Abbas said: “The presidency condemns the attack on Jewish worshippers in one of their places of prayer in West Jerusalem and condemns the killing of civilians no matter who is doing it.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry described the attack as an act of “pure terror.”
Israeli Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said he intended to step up security and was seeking a partial easing of gun controls so that military officers and security guards could carry weapons while off-duty.

Palestinian radio described the attackers as “martyrs” and the Islamist group Hamas praised the attack. Loudspeakers at mosques in Gaza called out congratulations and youngsters handed out candy in the streets.
Palestinian media named the attackers as Ghassan and Udai Abu Jamal, cousins from the Jerusalem district of Jabal Mukaber, where clashes broke out as Israeli security forces moved in to make arrests.
“Hamas calls for the continuation of revenge operations and stresses that the Israeli occupation bears responsibility for tension in Jerusalem,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
The synagogue attack came a day after a Palestinian bus driver was found hanged in his vehicle in Jerusalem. Israel said he committed suicide, but his family said he was attacked. Hundreds of mourners at his funeral on Sunday chanted for revenge.
Netanyahu said the synagogue attack was a result of incitement by Hamas and Abbas.
“We will respond with a heavy hand to the brutal murder of Jews who came to pray and were killed by lowly murderers,” he said.
At a meeting of parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense committee, Yoram Cohen, head of the internal Shin Bet security service, appeared to take a softer line toward Abbas, saying he was not interested in terror and was not directing terror, according to a political source.
But Cohen added: “There are those in the Palestinian public who might interpret his comments as legitimation for terror attacks.”
Violence in Jerusalem, areas of Israel and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories has surged in the past month, fueled in part by a dispute over Jerusalem’s holiest shrine, and Abbas has said Muslims have a right to defend their sacred places if attacked.
Five Israelis and a foreign visitor have been killed in attacks by Palestinians. About a dozen Palestinians have also been killed, including those accused of carrying out the attacks.
Residents trace the violence in Jerusalem to July, when a Palestinian teenager was burned to death by Jewish assailants, an alleged revenge attack for the abduction and killing of three Jewish teens by Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank.
The summer war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and a row over access to a Jerusalem compound that is sacred to Muslims and Jews alike have also triggered violence.
The synagogue attack was the worst in the city since 2008, when a Palestinian gunman killed eight people in a religious school.

Fifteen years later, Arafat is sorely missed

Updated 38 min 22 sec ago

Fifteen years later, Arafat is sorely missed

  • When Arafat passed away, an airport funeral procession was held in Paris and Cairo while the body was flown by a Jordanian military helicopter to Ramallah
  • While Palestinians look forward to a new generation of leaders, questions continue to dog the Palestinian leadership as to the circumstances behind Arafat’s untimely death

AMMAN: For Rauhi Fatouh, the memories of Yaser Arafat’s last days are as vivid as they were yesterday. 

Fatouh, a Gazan leader who belongs to Arafat’s Fatah movement, was the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council on Oct. 12, 2004 when president Arafat suddenly became sick while holed up at the Muqata headquarters in Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli tanks.

Fatouh recalls going with the ailing Arafat to a French military hospital outside Paris along with Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and Ahmad Kurei (Abu Alaa) and a special visitor came by. “We were visited by French President Jacque Chirac who talked about the issue of transition and asked me to follow the Palestinian basic law so that there would be a smooth transition,” Fatouh told Arab News.

Article 37 of the Palestinian law stipulates that if the president of the Palestinian Authority is unable to carry on his duties, the speaker of the Legislative Council will take over for a 60-day transitional period, after which new elections are supposed to take place. 

“We were hoping that this would not happen but everyone including Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Yemen’s Abdallah Saleh kept on calling us wanting to be sure that the transition will take place without any obstacles and if it is possible to hold the funeral outside of Palestine so that they can attend.”

When Arafat passed away, an airport funeral procession was held in Paris and Cairo while the body was flown by a Jordanian military helicopter to Ramallah. Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence, and Foreign Minister Suleiman Abu Ghaith came to Ramallah to attend the funeral.

Fatouh recalls the following sequence of events: “Abbas was elected as chairman of the executive committee and I was sworn in as acting president, as per the Palestinian Basic Law in front of the Legislative Council and the senior court judges. Everything concerning the transition took place in an orderly fashion,” he said noting that he resisted various attempts by people close to him to skip the idea of having presidential elections and stay in power.

One of the first orders of business for the acting president was to respond to the hundreds of letters, requests and laws that were unanswered. “I had to deal with thousands of documents, I vowed not to refuse any request for help from Palestinians needy medical or educational help, but sometimes we had to reduce the amount.”

On his third day in office, Fatouh signed a decree allowing for presidential elections to take place exactly 60 days later. “While some wanted to have simultaneous presidential and legislative elections, I decided to only have presidential elections to fill Arafat’s seat and that took place on Jan. 9, 2005.” Mahmoud Abbas won the presidential elections defeating independent medical doctor Mustafa Barghouti with 72 percent of the vote.

Najeeb Qadoumi, a member of the Palestine National and Central Councils, told Arab News that the absence of Arafat has left a vacuum in Palestinian political life. “We are sad on this occasion because we feel lonely. Arafat was able to move the Palestinian cause from a humanitarian and refugee cause to one of a revolution, a flag, national identity and statehood. Today, whenever you meet anyone and say you are Palestinian, they will mention Arafat’s name.”

While Palestinians look forward to a new generation of leaders, questions continue to dog the Palestinian leadership as to the circumstances behind Arafat’s untimely death. Hamdi Farraj, a left-wing writer from Bethlehem’s Dheisheh refugee camp, told Arab News that the mystery must be solved. Palestinian officials, including Arafat’s nephew Nasser Kidwa, insist that Arafat was poisoned, possibly with orders from former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with help from someone close to the late president. “We are further saddened by the fact that the killer of Arafat is still free, eating our food and breathing our air,” Farraj said.

Palestinians are expecting to have legislative elections early in 2020 followed within three months by presidential elections. Abbas has said previously that he has no plans to run again, but Fatah strongman Hussein Sheikh has said publicly that Abbas remains the party’s only candidate. Fatah Secretary Jibril Rajoub, seen by many as the strongest Fatah candidate, has said on Palestine TV that Abbas should be the “wise leader” of the Palestinian people and should give room to others to take his place.

Some analyst also expect Fatah deputy Mahmoud Alloul to be a candidate along with current Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. Renegade Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan, living in exile in the UAE, has a significant following and is expected to run for office if elections take place. Other possible candidates include Hamas’s leader Ismael Haniyeh and former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as an independent.