(CNSNews.com) – President Obama said Tuesday Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas had “strongly” condemned a gruesome terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, but for Israel and some supporters, the denunciation was half-hearted and risked worsening tensions by linking the attack with explosive allegations of Israeli threats to the al-Aqsa mosque.
Five Israelis, including three Israeli-American rabbis, were killed when two Palestinians armed with meat cleavers and a handgun attacked them during morning prayers. The perpetrators were subsequently shot dead by police.
The statement issued by Abbas’ office said “the presidency” condemned the attack, as it condemns the killing of civilians whoever is responsible.
“It condemns all acts of violence from all sources, and demands an end to the invasions of al-Aqsa mosque, the provocations of settlers and the incitement by some ministers in the Israeli government,” the statement continued, adding, “It’s time to end the occupation and to put an end to everything that makes violence and tension.”
“President Abbas has strongly condemned the attacks,” Obama told reporters at the White House, adding that too many Israelis and too many Palestinians have died in recent months and calling on both sides to “lower tensions and to reject violence.”
But Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a press conference that while he was glad Abbas had issued a condemnation, “it is not enough.”
“Because later on – the continuation of that sentence, after he condemned the murder today, he connected it to all sorts of imaginary events that ostensibly Israel performs on the Temple Mount, which do not take place,” he said.
Netanyahu accused the P.A., as well as Hamas and the Islamic Movement, of “disseminating libels against the State of Israel.”
“They say the Jews are defiling the Temple Mount. They say that our intention is to demolish those sacred places, and that we intend to change the prayer arrangements there. These are all lies, and these lies have already exacted a steep price,” he added.
Netanyahu cited another current example of what he said was incitement to violence: a Palestinian bus driver was found hanged at a bus terminal on Sunday. Official autopsy results released Monday determined that Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni had committed suicide, but the P.A. accused “Jews” of torturing and murdering him.
The P.A. foreign ministry in a statement called the autopsy findings a cover up, and said Ramouni’s death was a “direct result” of Netanyahu’s “incitement” against the Palestinian people.
(In a statement that praised Tuesday’s synagogue attack and called for more “acts of vengeance,” Hamas cited the death of the bus driver.)
Even after Tuesday’s attack, the P.A. maintained its stance that Israelis had murdered Ramouni. A cabinet meeting in Ramallah agreed on the need to protect Palestinians from Israeli attack, “the latest of which was the torture and hanging of Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni.”
According to a report by the P.A.’s official Wafa news agency, the same cabinet meeting also discussed the need to prevent Israel from “exploiting the operation that took place in Jerusalem today” by escalating aggression towards the Palestinian people and their holy sites.
Those hacked and shot to death in what the P.A. ministers called an “operation” were Moshe Twersky, 59, Aryeh Kupinsky, 43, and Kalman Zeev Levine, 55 – all American citizens – and British born Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, 68. A policeman from Israel’s Druze minority, Zidan Saif, 30, died after being shot by one of the terrorists.
Recent weeks have seen tensions rise over the Temple Mount, known in Arabic as Haram al-Sharif. The location of the biblical Temples is the holiest site in Judaism, and is also home to two mosques including Al-Aqsa, the third-holiest in Islam. The area falls under Israeli sovereignty, but is administered by an Islamic trust supervised by the Jordanian government.
Amid allegations of Jewish plots to desecrate or destroy the mosque, Palestinian rioting in the compound has become a regular occurrence and ten Israelis, including a three-month old child, have been killed in terror attacks over the past month.
Netanyahu, Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordan’s King Abdullah agreed in a meeting in Amman last week to take steps to lower the tensions, and after a separate meeting with Abbas the same day Kerry said the P.A. leader had “made it clear that he will do everything possible to restore calm and to prevent the incitement of violence.”
After Tuesday’s attack Kerry called on “Palestinians at every single level of leadership to condemn this in the most powerful terms,” adding that “this violence has no place anywhere, particularly after the discussion that we just had the other day in Amman.”
Netanyahu was not alone in viewing Abbas’ condemnation Tuesday as less than clear and unequivocal; it also drew criticism from some Israel supporters in the U.S.
Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman called Abbas’ statement “half-hearted” and “woefully inadequate,” saying it had come “after weeks of silence and failure to address the hateful incitement running rampant through Palestinian society.”
“Abbas’s unconvincing statements do not calm the situation, but instead, tragically, are inciting more violence against Jews,” said American Jewish Committee executive director David Harris. “Abbas knows full well that Israel has no designs on the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, and, in fact, has made every effort to safeguard them.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said “the P.A. must officially and publicly – in English, Hebrew, and Arabic – condemn this attack, and reject its perpetrators. Every P.A.-condoned attack leads Palestinians further down the path of despair.”
“These outrageous murders are caused by the reckless incitement, not only of Hamas, but of Mr. Abbas and the Palestinian Authority,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) “They are co-conspirators in the murder of these four religious teachers and rabbis. Their dishonest inciting of Palestinians is resulting in the death of innocent people, and it must stop. While Mr. Abbas has condemned this appalling act of hate, he must take immediate action to de-escalate the dangerous polarization.”
Netanyahu ended his press conference by appealing to Israelis to allow the authorities to provide the necessary response to terrorism and not to take the law into their own hands, “even when times are stormy, even when the blood boils.”