Jerusalem shooting: Two Israeli police officers killed in Palestinian attack near holy site known as Temple Mount and Noble Sanctuary

The site has been a flashpoint for violence in the past

Ian Deitch
Friday 14 July 2017 10:17
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Three attackers opened fire from inside the compound
Three attackers opened fire from inside the compound

Three Palestinian attackers have opened fire on Israeli police from inside a major Jerusalem holy site, killing two officers before being shot dead, officials said.

The rare attack from within the contested shrine, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, raises new concerns about an escalation of violence.

The compound is at the frontline of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has triggered major confrontations in the past.

A senior Muslim cleric in Jerusalem was detained by police after the attack, according to his son.

Mohammed Hussein, based at the shrine, was taken to an Old City police station, his son Omar said.

Noon prayers, which usually attract tens of thousands of Muslims, were cancelled at the compound on Friday

Israel has closed the site for further weapons sweeps. The rare closure meant a cancellation of noon prayers, which typically draw tens of thousands of Muslims from Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank to the compound on Fridays.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly tried to allay Muslim fears, saying the status quo at the Muslim-administered site “will be preserved”.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke to Mr Netanyahu in a rare phone call to discuss the situation in Jerusalem, highlighting the concern about a possible escalation, according to the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA.

The leaders have almost no direct contact.

Mr Abbas condemned the attack and said he rejects “any violence from any party, particularly at holy sites”.

Police identified the assailants as Arab citizens of Israel and members of the Jabareen clan.

A relative, Yehiyeh Jabareen, said they were devout Muslims who frequently visited the shrine, adding that clan members were in shock over the attack.

Israeli police chief Roni Alsheikh said the weapons used in the attack had been brought into the holy compound.

The attackers opened fire on the Israeli officers from inside the site, he said. In response, “a police force charged at the terrorists, killed two and wounded the third”.

The wounded assailant used a knife to attack an officer checking him for explosives and was killed, he added.

Muslim worshippers performed prayers in the streets near the walled Old City after police sealed off the area.

With the shrine off limits, the faithful lined up near Damascus Gate and other entrances to the Old City. Worshippers dispersed after the prayers without incident.

Mr Alsheikh said such an attack is “without precedent” at the holy site and an “incident of the highest severity”.

Amateur video broadcast on Israeli TV stations showed a few seconds of what appeared to be part of the chase in the compound.

In the video, several people – only visible as dark figures in the footage shot from a distance – were running inside the compound. A man who had dropped to the ground suddenly jumps up and lunges at one of the officers before he is shot.

In other violence Friday, Palestinian medical officials said an 18-year-old Palestinian was killed in clashes with soldiers near the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

The Israeli military said troops opened fire after Palestinians hurled explosives and blocks at them.

In the past two years, Palestinians have killed 45 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British tourist in stabbings, shootings and attacks using cars to ram into Israeli civilians and troops.

During that period, Israeli forces have killed more than 254 Palestinians, most of them said by Israel to be attackers, while others were killed in clashes with Israeli forces.

Israel blames the violence on incitement by Palestinian political and religious leaders compounded on social media sites that glorify violence and encourage attacks.

Palestinians say the attacks are triggered by anger over decades of Israeli occupation of territories they claim for their future state.

The Jerusalem shrine has been the scene of repeated confrontations.

In September 2000, then-Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon made a demonstrative visit to the site to show Israeli presence, sparking Palestinian protests that quickly escalated into armed clashes between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers.

The incident was one of the triggers of an armed Palestinian uprising, including suicide bombings targeting civilians, that claimed several thousand victims, most of them Palestinians, and only began to ebb in 2005.

In 1996, the opening of an Israeli archaeological tunnel alongside the Western Wall also sparked Palestinian protests that escalated into clashes, claiming several dozen lives.

AP

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