The US and United Nations on Saturday condemned the murder of two Israelis in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem’s Old City earlier in the evening.
The State Department strongly condemned the “tragic stabbing” which left Nehemia Lavi and Aharon Benet dead, and Benet’s wife and child injured.
The terrorist was identified as Muhanad Shafeq Halabi, 19, from al-Bireh, near Ramallah in the West Bank.
Benet’s wife was in serious condition and their two-year-old baby was lightly wounded. The mother was taken to Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem and is undergoing surgery. The toddler was taken to Shaare Zedek Medical Center for treatment where he remains in stable condition.
“We call for all perpetrators of violence to be swiftly brought to justice,” the State Department said. “We are concerned about mounting tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem, including the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount, and call on all sides to take affirmative steps to restore calm and avoid escalating the situation.”
The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement that he was “shocked that some find it appropriate to justify such attacks as ‘heroic,’ when they are not only appalling, but are also dangerous to both Palestinians and Israelis alike.”
Hamas, the Islamic terrorist group ruling the Gaza Strip, issued a statement after the attack, praising it as “heroic.”
“All political authorities, as well as religious and community leaders have the responsibility to condemn violence and act against incitement at a time when the entire region is reeling from the rise of extremism and radicalism,” Mladenov said. “The continued suffering of Israelis and Palestinians is a constant reminder that a just and lasting solution to the conflict can be achieved only through pursuing a negotiated two-state solution.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones,” he said in a statement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, was reported to talk tough following the deadly attack — the second in as many days targeting Israelis.
“They want a third intifada? They’ll get a second Defensive Shield,” sources close to the prime minister were quoted by Israel Hayom saying, referring to the IDF’s crackdown on terrorism in the West Bank in 2002 in response to the second intifada. “There will be many steps taken in the field which will harm Hamas’s infrastructure.”
Netanyahu returned to Israel from a trip to the US early Sunday morning, and spoke with senior Israeli defense officials before departure. He was expected to go straight from Ben Gurion International Airport to the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv upon his arrival on Sunday to meet with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and the head of the Shin Bet security agency, officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Netanyahu was to meet with the security cabinet Monday night after the conclusion of the Sukkot holiday to discuss operations against Hamas in the West Bank, Israel Hayom reported.
Earlier in the evening politicians from Israeli opposition parties criticized Netanyahu for his alleged lack of leadership Saturday night following the terror attack.
Opposition leader and Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog charged that the Netanyahu government has demonstrated a “total failure in handling security and the national task of protecting Jerusalem’s security.”
“Netanyahu has lost control of the security of Israeli citizens,” he wrote on Facebook.
“The government has no [real] plan to fight terrorism, this is crystal clear to all Israelis,” he wrote.
While the “heinous terrorists” must be punished to the fullest extent of the law, Herzog said the government “must have polices and employ measures and not just make declarations and hollow slogans.”
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said the “current leadership vacuum” leaves Israeli citizens vulnerable to terror attacks.
“Netanyahu, who for years took credit for establishing security, is responsible for the deterioration of that security,” the former justice minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians told Channel 2 Saturday.
“The reinforcement of security forces in the fight against terrorism is not in United Nations speeches or debates, but in the making of decisions that will minimize the tensions,” she said.
The leadership vacuum that exists is a ticking time bomb and leaves Israeli citizens exposed to terrorism which damages Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem,” she added.
Former foreign minister and chairman of the nationalist Yisrael Beytenu party Avigdor Liberman posted news of the attack on Facebook with the caption: “This is what losing control and deterrence looks like.”
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said the Netanyahu government has “failed to provide security to Israeli citizens; it’s too busy with internal struggles.”
Lapid added that the Palestinian Authority shares the blame for its incitement surrounding recent tensions on the Temple Mount, where Palestinian rioters and Israeli security forces have been clashing for weeks.
President Reuven Rivlin said his country was fighting “a battle against terrorism” and vowed to go after “the killers of innocent people”.
Agriculture Minister and Jewish Home MK Uri Ariel condemned the recent wave of attacks against “Jews guilty of being Jewish.”
In a Facebook post, Ariel said the violence was the “result of incitement by the Palestinian Authority. I call on the prime minister to act with an iron fist against terrorism in one hand and halt the settlement freeze in Judea and Samaria in the other.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the Palestinian Authority and local mosques were to blame for inciting for the recent terror attacks, and called on Netanyahu to adopt a harsher stance towards those guilty of inciting violence.
In an interview with Channel 2 at the scene of the attack, Barkat urged the government to “step up” its response to “inciters and those who encourage terrorism.”
Saturday’s attack comes just two days after an Israeli couple was gunned down in front of their four young children while driving in the West Bank on Thursday evening.
Naama and Eitam Henkin were shot dead by two Palestinian attackers while driving between the settlements of Elon Moreh and Itamar, near the Palestinian village of Beit Furik, close to Nablus.
Their children — aged 9,7, 4 and 4 months — who were in the backseat of the vehicle, were unharmed.