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Netanyahu vows tough response as home of attacker demolished

Neighbours fear structural damage to entire apartment block amid speculation that demolition is a result of Tuesday's synagogue attack
Neighbours look out at East Jerusalem from the home of the Shaludi family, whose apartment was razed (MEE / Mahfouz Abu Turk)

The home of a Palestinian man who killed two Israelis last month was levelled early on Wednesday as Israeli leaders pledged to get tough, threatening a spate of further action to quell the security threats.

According to neighbours who spoke to MEE, police and army personnel entered the third-floor flat in the Silwan neighbourhood, located a stone’s throw away from the Old City, at around 04:00 local time (02:00 GMT).

The ensuing blast sent debris spewing onto the streets, damaging adjacent buildings and cars parked below.

A car flattened by falling rubble from the explosion (MEE / Mahfouz Abu Turk)

“The house wasn’t demolished, as it’s in a block, but it has been rendered unusable - all the inside and outside walls are broken,” MEE contributor Oren Ziv said by telephone.

The family had been issued with a demolition order and told to evacuate within 48 hours.

However, it is extremely likely that Tuesday’s synagogue attack, in which four Israeli civilians and one Israeli policeman were killed, expedited the process, Ziv explained.

“There has been big public pressure to do more to fight terror attacks, but bureaucracy means [that the authorities] could not demolish the houses of synagogue attackers straight away."

Wednesday's demolition comes just hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to get tough and move to prevent further attacks.

"We are at the height of an ongoing terror attack focused on Jerusalem," Netanyahu said in a live public address.

"This evening, I ordered the destruction of the houses of the Palestinians who carried out this massacre and to speed up the demolition of those who carried out previous attacks," he said.  

The Palestinian attacker Abdelrahman Shaludi slammed his car into a group of pedestrians waiting for the light railway in East Jerusalem on 22 October.

He killed a three-month old baby, Chaya Zissel Braun and 22-year old Karen Yemima Muscara, an Ecuadorian citizen who had reportedly come to Israel to convert to Judaism. Shaludi was then shot dead at the scene by police.

The incident seems to have sparked a string of copycat attacks, in which a further three Israelis have been killed. A right-wing activist, Yehuda Glick – a prominent member of the highly controversial Temple Mount movement – was also gunned down in Jerusalem, although he survived the attack.

However, Tuesday’s attack, which saw two Palestinians enter a synagogue armed with knives, axes and guns, has been the bloodiest yet.

The attack killed four rabbis and a police officer at a synagogue in West Jerusalem.

It is thought that the father of one of the killers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian teen beaten and burned alive by settlers, frequently prayed at the synagogue.

Netanyahu has vowed to destroy the homes of the two attackers, Ghassan and Odai Abu al-Jamal, two cousins from south-east Jerusalem.

On Tuesday night, their houses were raided, and 10 of the men's relatives were arrested - on Wednesday morning, Israeli police announced that they would be extending the detention of three of one of the men's brothers.

The house of one of the attackers after Israeli police raided it on Tuesday (Twitter / @IsraelHatzolah)

Security has also been visibly stepped up in the city, with as yet unconfirmed rumours circulating that the army might be brought into Jerusalem.

But while tensions may be rising, and pressure for crackdowns growing, analysts were quick to warn that any further acts of so-called "collective punishment" - such as house demolitions - were likely to exasperate the situation.

"To stop these attacks, the only thing you can really do is to close off those [East Jerusalem] neighbourhoods, but that's a double-edged sword," political and security analyst Daniel Nisma told AFP.

"You could risk increasing tensions with the people there, the majority of whom don't want an escalation."

Mark Heller, a political analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel (INSS), agreed that any kind of tough response was likely be difficult.

"There is no magic solution. There's not much you can do against 'lone-wolf' attackers who wake up in the morning and decide all of a sudden to act," he told AFP.

"The government will undoubtedly toughen its stance, but this will not solve the problem."

Human rights groups have also warned against further demolitions.

"Punishing the families of suspects by destroying their homes is collective punishment and is prohibited by international law," Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

"Authorities must not trample over the rights of Palestinians through collective punishments and other heavy-handed measures in order to restore security," said the watchdog's Middle East and North Africa director Philip Luther.

The international community has widely condemned Tuesday’s attack, while also urging calm.

“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," US President Barack Obama said on Tuesday.

"I strongly condemn today’s terrorist attack on worshippers at a synagogue in Jerusalem […] There is and can be no justification for such attacks against innocent civilians.

“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,” Obama added.

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