Nov 20, 9:53 AM EST

Israel to demolish homes of synagogue attackers


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JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli police on Thursday handed home demolition notices to families of four Palestinian attackers from east Jerusalem, including two assailants who killed five people in a synagogue attack earlier this week, according to relatives and Palestinian officials.

The orders followed a pledge by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step up home demolitions as a punitive measure for a wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis over the past month. The policy has drawn heavy criticism in the past and was rarely used in recent years, but Israeli officials decided to resume the practice in hopes of deterring potential attackers.

Said Abu Jamal, a cousin of the two synagogue attackers, said police summoned their families Thursday and issued the demolition orders.

The two Palestinian cousins from east Jerusalem - Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal - burst into a crowded synagogue on Tuesday morning, killing four worshippers and a Druze Arab policeman with meat cleavers and gunfire before they were shot dead. It was the deadliest attack in the city since 2008.

Families of two other Palestinian attackers, Ibrahim al-Akari and Moataz Hijazi, received similar notices earlier on Thursday, according Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian Authority minister for Jerusalem affairs. An Israeli police spokesman said he was checking the report.

Al-Akari was shot dead by security forces after killing two Israelis earlier this month, when he rammed his car into a Jerusalem light rail station. Israeli police also killed Hijazi after he shot and seriously wounded an Israeli activist who has lobbied for greater Jewish access to a sensitive Jerusalem holy site in October.

On Wednesday, Israel demolished the home of another Palestinian man who rammed his car into a train station last month, killing two people before he was shot dead by police.

Netanyahu has called for tough action amid a wave of attacks against Israelis. Eleven people have died in five separate incidents in recent weeks - most of them in Jerusalem, but also in Tel Aviv and the occupied West Bank. At least five Palestinians involved in the attacks were killed.

The violence, which reached a new turning point with the synagogue attack, has taken place against the background of roiling tensions over access to Jerusalem's most holy site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The Palestinians fear that Israel wants to allow Jews to pray there, breaking a status quo in effect since Israel captured the area in the 1967 Mideast War.

Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have repeatedly denied the claim but nationalistic politicians have increasingly stirred tensions by visiting the site.

The tensions have in turn spurred anti-Arab demonstrations by Israeli hardliners. On Wednesday, Mayor Itamar Shimoni of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon suspended Israeli Arab laborers from work. They were renovating bomb shelters at local day-care centers.

The move drew widespread criticism on Thursday, including from Netanyahu who said "there is no place for discrimination against Israeli Arabs." Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who anchors the far right wing of Netanyahu's coalition, insisted that "99 percent of Israeli Arabs are completely loyal" to Israel.

Arab citizens make up about 20 percent of Israel's population of 8 million people. Tensions over the Jerusalem holy site have spilled into their community as well and Israeli police recently shot to death an Arab Israeli man who approached a police car wielding a knife.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said Thursday that militants in the Gaza Strip test-fired rockets into the Mediterranean Sea, in an apparent attempt to show off their capabilities.

Four rockets were fired in the past 24 hours, the military said, without elaborating on the test or type of rockets fired. There was no immediate confirmation from Palestinian officials in Gaza.

Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers fought a 50-day war over the summer that claimed more than 2,100 Palestinian and 70 Israeli lives.

At the time, Israel said it launched the operation to halt Hamas' rocket attacks from Gaza - rockets that now have the ability to reach Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other Israeli cities. And though the rocket fire continued throughout the war, it was largely neutralized by Israel's "Iron Dome" aerial defense system.

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