In an extraordinarily brazen assault early Friday, three Arab citizens of Israel armed with guns and knives killed two Israeli police officers guarding an entrance to Jerusalem’s holiest site for Jews and Muslims, an emotional and volatile focal point of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Security camera footage showed the armed assailants emerging to attack from within the sacred compound in the Old City of Jerusalem that Jews revere as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Police officers pursued the assailants, who fled back inside the compound and exchanged fire; all three assailants were killed.
The police identified the slain officers as Advanced Staff Sgt. Maj. Hayil Satawi, 30, who was married with a 3-week-old son; and Advanced Staff Sgt. Maj. Kamil Shnaan, 22, the son of a former parliamentarian. Both officers were members of the country’s small Druze community and came from towns in northern Israel.
Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, identified the assailants as residents of Umm el-Fahm, a large Arab town in central Israel, near the border with the West Bank: Muhammad Ahmed Jabarin, 29; Muhammad Hamid Jabarin, 19; and Muhammad Ahmed Mufdal Jabarin, 19. It was not immediately known if the three were related, but their names indicated that they belonged to the same large clan.
“We cannot allow for agents of murder, who desecrate the name of God, to drag us into a bloody war, and we will deal with a heavy hand against all the arms of terror, and its perpetrators,” President Reuven Rivlin of Israel said in a statement. “The state of Israel will defend its sovereignty and its citizens with a strong hand, and will not allow anyone to provoke the region into a bloody war.”
The police announced that they had evacuated and closed the compound, and helicopters circled above the area after the attack.
The closing of the holy site is an exceptional and potentially explosive measure; Israeli-imposed restrictions on Muslim entry to the compound have prompted spasms of rioting in Palestinian areas in the past. Previous Israeli measures taken in response to, or to prevent, violence at the site have also strained Israel’s relations with Jordan, a neighbor and crucial ally that retains a special role in administering the site under the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty of 1994.
Apparently in an effort to calm the atmosphere, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, telephoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and strongly condemned the attack. He also called on Mr. Netanyahu to reopen the holy site, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
Mr. Netanyahu’s office said he had told Mr. Abbas that Israel would “take all the necessary actions to maintain security on the Temple Mount, without changing the status quo,” referring to the delicate arrangements that govern regular access to, and control of, the site.
The call came after Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian movement Mr. Abbas leads, called via Twitter and Facebook for Palestinians to turn out in large numbers to pray at Al Aqsa in defiance of the Israeli decision to close it. Those who came prayed in the streets outside the Old City walls.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Isabel Kershner