Arab gun­men kill two Is­raeli po­lice­men at Jerusalem shrine

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

Arab as­sailants struck at ground zero of the Is­raeliPales­tinian con­flict on Fri­day, open­ing fire from in­side a ma­jor Jerusalem shrine and killing two Is­raeli po­lice­men be­fore be­ing shot dead.

The rare at­tack from within the sa­cred site, revered by both Mus­lims and Jews, raised new con­cerns about an es­ca­la­tion of vi­o­lence. The three at­tack­ers were Arab cit­i­zens of Is­rael, also a rar­ity in a rash of Pales­tinian at­tacks on Is­raeli civil­ians and sol­diers that erupted about two years ago, in part over ten­sions at the holy site.

Jerusalem po­lice com­mis­sioner Yo­ram Halevy said the at­tack was well planned: The as­sailants had ob­tained au­to­matic weapons and stayed at the holy com­pound the night be­fore. He said they marked their tar­gets in ad­vance and af­ter shoot­ing them ran back in­side the com­pound. “The en­tire in­ci­dent be­gan and ended” at the holy com­pound, he told chan­nel 10 TV.

Af­ter the vi­o­lence, Is­rael closed the site — known to Mus­lims as the Noble Sanc­tu­ary and to Jews as the Tem­ple Mount — for fur­ther sweeps to make sure there were no more weapons there.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice said it would re­open grad­u­ally af­ter se­cu­rity eval­u­a­tions on Sun­day.

Jor­dan, a cus­to­dian of the sa­cred com­pound, called for its im­me­di­ate re­open­ing to al­low ac­cess to Mus­lim wor­ship­pers.

Ne­tanyahu acted quickly to al­lay Mus­lim fears, say­ing that the sta­tus quo at the Mus­li­mad­min­is­tered site “will be pre­served.”

Jews re­vere the site, where the two Jewish tem­ples stood in bib­li­cal times, as the Tem­ple Mount. It is the holi­est site in Ju­daism and the nearby Western Wall, a rem­nant of one of the tem­ples, is the holi­est place where Jews can pray.

Mus­lims re­gard the same hill­top com­pound as the Noble Sanc­tu­ary. Home to the AlAqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, it is Is­lam’s third-holi­est site af­ter Mecca and Med­ina in Saudi Ara­bia.

The fate of the area is an emo­tional is­sue at the heart of the con­flict and forms the cen­ter­piece of ri­val Is­raeli and Pales­tinian na­tional nar­ra­tives.

Af­ter Fri­day’s at­tack, Is­raeli Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin said: “We can­not al­low for agents of mur­der who des­e­crate the name of God, to drag us into a bloody war.”

Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas reached out to Ne­tanyahu in a phone call, high­light­ing the con­cern about a pos­si­ble es­ca­la­tion. The lead­ers have al­most no direct con­tact.

Ab­bas con­demned the at­tack and said he re­jects “any vi­o­lence from any party, par­tic­u­larly at holy sites,” said the of­fi­cial Pales­tinian news agency WAFA.

Po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing how the weapons were brought into the site.

Is­raeli po­lice chief Roni Al­sheikh said the at­tack­ers opened fire on the Is­raeli of­fi­cers from in­side the site. In re­sponse, “a po­lice force charged at the ter­ror­ists, killed two and wounded the third,” he said. The wounded as­sailant used a knife to at­tack an Is­raeli of­fi­cer check­ing him for ex­plo­sives and was killed, the po­lice chief said.

Footage re­leased by po­lice showed the at­tack­ers with guns raised run­ning from in­side the com­pound and at­tack­ing the of­fi­cers on duty at the en­trance.

A rel­a­tive said the at­tack­ers were mem­bers of the Jaba­reen clan — two 19-year-olds and a 29-year-old.

They were de­vout Mus­lims and fre­quently vis­ited the shrine, trav­el­ling to Jerusalem by bus from their homes in north­ern Is­rael, the rel­a­tive, Ye­hiyeh Jaba­reen, told The As­so­ci­ated Press. He said the fam­ily was in shock over the shoot­ing.

He con­firmed the au­then­tic­ity of a post on the Face­book page of one of the younger at­tack­ers that showed him flash­ing a half-smile. “God will­ing, to­mor­row’s smile will be more beau­ti­ful,” read the cap­tion.

AP PHOTO

Is­raeli bor­der po­lice of­fi­cers body-search Pales­tini­ans in Jerusalem’s Old City, Fri­day. Three Pales­tinian as­sailants opened fire on Is­raeli po­lice from in­side a ma­jor Jerusalem holy site Fri­day, killing two of­fi­cers be­fore be­ing shot dead, po­lice said.

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