JERUSALEM — Two Palestinians stormed a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday, attacking worshippers with knives, axes and guns, and killing four people before they were killed in a shootout with police, officials said.
The attack was the deadliest in Jerusalem in years and 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 called Tuesday’s attack a “cruel murder of Jews who came to pray and were killed by despicable murderers” and said Israel will “respond harshly.”
Netanyahu blamed the violence on incitement by the Islamic militant Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He said the international community ignores the incitement.
Israeli police described the assault as a terrorist attack and said the two assailants were apparently Palestinians from east Jerusalem. Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that runs the Gaza Strip, praised the Jerusalem attack but stopped short of claiming responsibility.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said six people were wounded in the attack, including two police officers. 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 after 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.
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.
The attack comes amid spiking tensions in Jerusalem, which 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, before Tuesday’s casualties.
Jerusalem residents have already been fearful of what appeared to be lone-wolf attacks using cars or knives against pedestrians. But Tuesday’s early morning attack on a synagogue harkens back to the gruesome attacks during the Palestinian uprising of the last decade.
Tensions appeared to have been somewhat defused last week after a meeting by Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Jordan. The meeting was an attempt to restore calm after months of violent confrontations surrounding a sacred shrine holy to both Jews and Muslims.
Israel and the Palestinians said then they would take steps to reduce tensions that might lead to an escalation.
In a statement, Hamas praised the synagogue attack, saying it was a “response to continued Israeli crimes, the killing, desecrating al-Aqsa” mosque, a reference to a recent incident at the holy site.