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Israel/OPT: Killing of worshippers at synagogue an ‘abhorrent attack’

Armed men who attacked worshippers at a synagogue in West Jerusalem killing four Israelis and injuring eight this morning have displayed an utter contempt for fundamental principles of humanity, said Amnesty International.

The killing is the deadliest attack on civilians to occur in Jerusalem in six years.

“Nothing can ever justify such an abhorrent attack on worshippers in a synagogue. The deliberate killing of civilians must be utterly condemned,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.

The attack was said to be carried out by cousins living in East Jerusalem. No group has yet claimed responsibility for carrying out the attack but both Hamas and the Palestinian armed group Islamic Jihad have praised it. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to respond “with a heavy hand” to the attack in a worrying signal that violations against Palestinians in the West Bank, including house demolitions and other collective punishment, will worsen.

There has been a spike in attacks on Israeli civilians and military personnel in recent months in Israel as well as the occupied West Bank, with a number of Palestinians ramming vehicles into pedestrians or carrying out knife attacks against civilians as they queued at bus stops.

On 10 November Maher al-Hashlamoni, from Hebron, tried to ram a group of Israeli civilians outside a West Bank settlement with a car and then stabbed three people killing one. On the same day Nur al-Din Abu Hashiya, 18, from Nablus, killed a soldier in a knife attack at Tel Aviv train station.

The Israeli authorities have committed human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law in their responses to these attacks, including by carrying out punitive home demolitions against the families of those involved in the attacks.

“Punishing the families of suspects by destroying their homes is collective punishment and is prohibited by international law. Tensions across the West Bank have been at fever pitch following the conflict in Gaza this summer. Authorities must not trample over the rights of Palestinians through collective punishments and other heavy-handed measures in order to restore security,” said Philip Luther.

There has also been a spate of unlawful killings of Palestinians during demonstrations by police when their lives were not in danger, while Israeli settlers have carried out attacks on Palestinians harvesting their olives.

“The Israeli security forces have an obligation to protect the whole civilian population regardless of whether they are Palestinian or Israeli. Instead of stepping up their heavy-handed tactics, the Israeli authorities must ensure that anyone who attacks civilians on either side is held to account. Failing to do so is only likely to embolden attackers and worsen the cycle of bloodshed,” said Philip Luther.