Two men killed four rabbis during morning prayers Tuesday at a synagogue in West Jerusalem and injured eight other people, before officers shot them dead. A policeman also died of his wounds after the attack.
The assailants killed three Americans - Aryeh Kupinsky, 43; Cary William Levine, 55; and Mosheh Twersky, 59 - and the 68-year-old British rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, all of whom also held Israeli citizenship.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the attackers "human animals," ordered the demolition of their families' homes and told Israelis to increase their vigilance.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed that cousins from East Jerusalem carried out the attack. The group's armed wing, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, praised the men as "martyrs" and called for an escalation of "confrontations with Israeli occupiers and settlers."
Tuesday's killings are the latest in a series of violent incidents. Just last week, a petrol bomb was thrown at a different synagogue in Jerusalem after a mosque was torched by suspected settlers in the West Bank. US President Barack Obama called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to lower tensions in Jerusalem and seek peace.
"Tragically, this is not the first loss of lives that we have seen in recent months," Obama said at the White House on Tuesday. "Too many Israelis have died, too many Palestinians have died."
Obama added that "obviously, we condemn in the strongest terms this attack" and said that US Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken to Netanyahu by telephone.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has also called for a halt to all attacks. However, in an earlier statement, he laid the blame for the increasing violence upon Israel's intrusions into the Jerusalem compound that houses the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site but also very important to Judaism. Commentators have also cited Israel's expansion into East Jerusalem as a form of provocation.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the attack and all other recent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces that have fueled tensions.
mkg/bw (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)