Three Arab men armed with automatic weapons holed up overnight inside a major Jerusalem shrine before opening fire Friday morning inside the sacred site, killing two Israeli policemen.
The brazen assault shut down the holy compound and sparked a wave of fear over escalating violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In the past two years, Palestinian assailants have mounted several attacks on Israeli citizens and soldiers, including one a month ago in which three armed Palestinians killed a border police officer at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The latest bloodshed also took place in the Old City at a holy compound sacred to both Muslims and Jews. Muslims call the site Noble Sanctuary, while Jews refer to it as the Temple Mount.
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Jerusalem Police Commissioner Yoram Halevy said the three gunmen — who were Arab citizens of Israel — were calculating and methodical in their attacks.
Chilling security-camera footage showed the assailants charging out of the compound and hunting down their targets. The two slain officers were Kamil Shanan, 22, and Hail Stawi, 30, who officials said was the father of a newborn baby.
Police officials said officers shot two of the assailants dead at the site.
A third attacker was wounded in the gunfight. He was later killed when he tried to use a knife to attack an officer checking him for explosives.
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A relative of the attackers described them as devout Muslims who lived in northern Israel but frequently traveled to the shrine to worship.
The site’s importance to both faiths is part of the rising tension between Palestine and Israel. But officials from both sides of the conflict were quick to condemn the attacks.
“We cannot allow for agents of murder who desecrate the name of God, to drag us into a bloody war,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said.
In a rare move, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas contacted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone to condemn the attack and ask that the site reopen.
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The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said Abbas rejected “any violence from any party, particularly at holy sites.”
Netanyahu also said he would preserve the status quo at the site, allaying Muslim concerns over their future access to the holy grounds.
In the past two years, Palestinian assailants have killed 45 Israelis, two Americans and a British tourist in various attacks involving stabbings, shootings and car crashes.
During the same time, Israeli forces killed more than 254 Palestinians.
A narrow and hateful assault on a complex play about Israel
With News Wire Services
- police officers shot
- israeli-palestinian conflict
- mahmoud abbas
- benjamin netanyahu
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