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UPDATE 1-In Pittsburgh, more funerals Wednesday for synagogue massacre victims

Updated: 31-10-2018 18:05 IST
Pittsburgh prepared to hold two more funerals on Wednesday for Jewish victims of a shooting rampage at a synagogue that has been the focus of political debate ahead of hotly contested U.S. congressional elections next week.

Eleven worshippers were gunned down on Saturday morning by a man who stormed into the Tree of Life Synagogue and opened fire, yelling antisemitic statements including: "All Jews must die." It was deadliest attack on Jews in the United States.

Funerals were due to be held on Wednesday for Melvin Wax, 88, the man who was leading Sabbath services when the attack began, and retired university researcher Joyce Fienberg, 75.

The attack has heightened a national debate over Republican U.S. President Donald Trump's rhetoric, which critics say has contributed to a surge in white nationalist and neo-Nazi activity. His administration denies he has encouraged far-right extremism and is instead attempting to unify America.

The first funerals for victims took place on Tuesday, when Trump visited Tree of Life. Thousands protested his presence in the city, accusing him of using rhetoric that has fueled antisemitism in America.

More than 1,800 people came to pay their respects on Tuesday at Rodef Shalom, another synagogue in the Squirrel Hill district at the heart of the city's Jewish community.

Trump's visit to Pennsylvania's second-largest city came seven days before elections that will determine whether his Republican Party maintains control of both houses of Congress or whether the Democrats seize a majority in one chamber or both.

The accused gunman in the synagogue attack, Robert Bowers, was charged on Monday with 29 federal felony counts including hate crimes. He is due to make a second appearance in federal court on Thursday.

Wax, a retired accountant who had just become a grandfather, was leading Sabbath services when he was shot and killed, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

"He was a gentle man. Easygoing, simple, quiet," his friend Bill Cartiff told the newspaper.

Fienberg spent 25 years as a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center until she retired in 2008.

"She was an engaging, elegant, and warm person," the center said on Facebook.

In a social media post on Saturday morning, Bowers referred to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a nonprofit refugee resettlement agency, as helping to "bring invaders in that kill our people," declaring: "I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."

Trump made no public comments during his visit to the synagogue on Tuesday.

Several thousand protesters, an ethnically mixed crowd of all ages, held an anti-Trump rally about a block away from the synagogue just as his visit began, singing Old Testament psalms and carrying signs with such slogans as: "We build bridges not walls."

(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by John Stonestreet and Jeffrey Benkoe)

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)