Two Is­raeli of­fi­cers gunned down at sa­cred site

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - IAN DEITCH In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Mo­hammed Daragh­meh and Karin Laub of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

JERUSALEM — Arab as­sailants struck at ground zero of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict 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 broke out 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 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 the sta­tus quo at the Mus­lim-ad­min­is­tered site “will be pre­served.”

Jews re­vere the site, where 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 Al-Aqsa 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,” ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial Pales­tinian news agency WAFA.

Po­lice were in­ves­ti­gat­ing how the weapons were car­ried into the site.

Roni Al­sheikh, the Is­raeli po­lice chief, 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 shows 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, trav­el­ing to Jerusalem by bus from their homes in north­ern Is­rael, the rel­a­tive, Ye­hiyeh Jaba­reen, said in an in­ter­view. 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 half­s­mile. “God will­ing, to­mor­row’s smile will be more beau­ti­ful,” read the cap­tion.

The two slain po­lice­men — Ad­vanced Staff Sgt. Maj. Hael Sathawi, 30, and Ad­vanced Staff Sgt. Maj. Kamil Shanan, 22, were mem­bers of Is­rael’s Druze com­mu­nity, fol­low­ers of a se­cre­tive off-shoot of Is­lam.

Shanan was a son of Shachiv Shanan, a for­mer mem­ber of par­lia­ment for the La­bor Party. Sathawi left a wife and a 3-week-old baby, po­lice said.

The clos­ing of the shrine, which rarely hap­pens, meant the can­cel­la­tion of noon prayers, which typ­i­cally draw tens of thou­sands of Mus­lims from Is­rael and the West Bank to the com­pound on Fri­days. The faith­ful per­formed prayers in the streets near the Old City in­stead.

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.

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