At least four people were killed in Jerusalem Tuesday morning when two Palestinian attackers armed with knives, a meat cleaver, axes and guns entered a synagogue during morning worship services and began striking those praying.
Israeli police shot and killed the attackers. The U.S. government confirmed three of the victims killed were American citizens: Aryeh Kupinsky, Cary William Levine and Mosheh Twersky. The fourth, Avraham Goldberg, was a British citizen. All four were rabbis, CNN reported.
President Barack Obama condemned the assault as a terrorist attack and urged Israelis and Palestinians to work together to lower tensions.
"I strongly condemn today’s terrorist attack on worshipers at a synagogue in Jerusalem, which killed four innocent people, including U.S. citizens Aryeh Kupinsky, Cary William Levine, and Mosheh Twersky, and injured several more," Obama said in a statement. "There is and can be no justification for such attacks against innocent civilians. The thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the victims and families of all those who were killed and injured in this horrific attack and in other recent violence. 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."
There was no immediate formal claim of responsibility, but an Israeli police spokeswoman identified the attackers as Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal, cousins from east Jerusalem, the Associated Press reported. The militant group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said the two were among its members, but didn't say whether they carried out the attack on the group's orders.
Hamas praised the killings as "heroic" and said they were "revenge" for the death of a Palestinian bus driver in Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel would respond strongly, calling the attackers “despicable” and blaming the killings on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas.
“This is the direct result of the incitement led by Hamas and Abu Mazen,” Netanyahu said, referring to Abbas. “Incitement that the international community irresponsibly ignores.”
“We will respond with a strong hand to the cruel murder of Jews who came to pray, and were caught by dark murderous hands,” Netanyahu vowed.
Members of the Israeli emergency service carry the body of a synagogue attack victim in Jerusalem, Nov. 18, 2014. Three Americans and a Briton were killed and seven others injured in an attack by two Palestinians on a Jewish synagogue in west Jerusalem. The two attackers were gunned down by Israeli police in the immediate wake of the attack. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Speaking in a televised statement later, Netanyahu called on other world leaders to show “outrage.”
“I would like to see outrage, I would like to see deep and unbending denunciation for these acts of murder against Israelis and Jews,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu said he had ordered the attackers' homes be demolished and that he'd implemented further security measures in Jerusalem, which has been the site of renewed clashes. He prepared Israelis for an “extended battle” against terrorism.
HWe are in a battle for Jerusalem, our eternal capital,” Netanyahu said.
Abbas also condemned the attack in a statement, while also denouncing “provocative acts” by Israelis.
"[T]oday, the presidency denounces the killing of worshipers at a place of worship in West Jerusalem," Abbas said in a statement posted on the official Wafa news agency.
"The presidency also denounces all violent acts no matter who their source is, and demands an end to the ongoing incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the provocative acts by Israeli settlers as well as incitement by some Israeli ministers," the statement read, according to the Ma’an News Agency.
Israel’s Army Radio reported that two of the attackers were killed and that a manhunt was underway for a third individual believed to have driven the two attackers to the synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood.
Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police who responded to the emergency call killed the attackers on site.
"We are viewing this as a terrorist attack," Rosenfeld said.
An Israeli military spokesman tweeted that within an hour of the attack, Hamas had issued words of praise while Palestinians in Gaza were seen shooting in the air and setting off fireworks to celebrate the news of the killings.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling in London Tuesday, condemned the attack and demanded Palestinian leaders stop inciting violence, a position that appeared to coincide with Netanyahu's words.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro called the attack “pure, unadulterated evil.”
He said in a statement on Facebook that the attack “represents a barbaric new low in the sad and outrageous history of such attacks. Murdering worshippers at prayer in a synagogue is an act if pure, unadulterated evil.”
“There is no possible justification for such an act of violence,” Shapiro added.
Zaki Heller, a spokesman for the Magen David Adom first emergency medical responders, told Israel Army Radio that at least 10 people were attacked at the Kehilat Yaakov synagogue.
Even before the Hamas statements issued in Gaza and Qatar, Palestinian affairs reporters told Israeli media they suspected the synagogue rampage might have been a revenge attack for the death of an Arab bus driver over the weekend in Jerusalem. Though police said evidence suggests a suicide, the Palestinian Authority foreign ministry blamed Netanyahu as being personally responsible for the “murder” of the driver.
An Israeli news service posted video of the tense standoff with gunshots heard as police stood poised to strike the attackers.
One eyewitness told the Times of Israel the attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar" during 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,” said one of the worshippers interviewed by Israel's Channel 2 television, identified as Yossi.
Yosef Posternak described the horrific scene: “I saw people lying on the floor, blood everywhere. People were trying to fight with [the attackers] but they didn’t have much of a chance.”
A witness named Zohar described the panic: “I heard shooting and one of the worshipers came out covered in blood and shouted ‘There’s a massacre.'”
One of the victims, Mosheh Twersky, was originally from Boston and headed an English-speaking rabbinical seminary, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Twersky, 60, was the grandson of a renowned Jewish religious figure, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik.
Jerusalem has been gripped by weeks of violence including Palestinian car attacks, stabbings and the shooting of a well-known rabbi. Before Tuesday, at least five Jews had been killed in terrorist attacks in recent weeks.
TheBlaze's Oliver Darcy contributed to this report.
This is a developing story that will be updated.