THREE ARABS OPENED fire on Israeli police in Jerusalem earlier today, killing two before fleeing to an ultra-sensitive holy site where they were also shot dead in one of the most serious incidents in the city in recent years.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone later in the day as tensions rose over the attack and its aftermath.
The three attackers, Arab Israelis aged between 19 and 29, were shot dead by police, and a body could later be seen lying on the ground near the Al-Aqsa mosque at the holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City.
They had been armed with guns and knives, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Videos circulating on social media showed a hail of gunfire ring out in what seemed to be an exchange of bullets between Israeli security forces and the assailants.
Security forces locked down the area and the Al-Aqsa mosque was closed to prayers after the attack in a highly unusual move.
The attackers were from the Arab Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm, located near the occupied West Bank.
They were identified by police as Muhammad Ahmad Muhammad Jabareen, 29; Muhammad Hamed Abdel Latif Jabareen, 19, and Muhammad Ahmad Mafadal Jabareen, 29.
Arab Israelis are descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land following the creation of Israel in 1948. They largely identify with the Palestinian cause.
The police who were killed were identified as Ha’il Satawi (30) and Kamil Shanan (22) both from the Druze minority.
The assailants were killed at the site known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount, the location of regular clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, but where gunfire rarely occurs.
The site includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
In the phone call with Netanyahu, Abbas “expressed his strong rejection and condemnation of the incident at the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque and his rejection of any act of violence from any side, especially in places of worship”. official Palestinian news agency WAFA said.
The statement appeared stronger than previous such responses from Abbas, who has repeatedly called for non-violent resistance to Israel’s occupation without specifically condemning Palestinian attacks.
A statement from Netanyahu’s office confirmed the call.
“The prime minister said that Israel will take all the necessary measures in order to ensure the security on the Temple Mount without changes in the status quo,” it said.
Following the closure of the mosque, Israeli security forces detained Jerusalem’s top Islamic cleric as crowds gathered in the Old City, the cleric’s son said.
The grand mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the city’s highest Islamic authority, had earlier gathered in the Old City with others and condemned the closure of the Al-Aqsa mosque for prayers after the attack.
Israeli police said they had no comment.
Hussein’s son Jihad Hussein told AFP his father had been taken to a police station near the Old City.
“Until now, we don’t know what is going on with my father,” he said.
One of the mufti’s bodyguards, Khaled Hamo, said police “entered the crowd and took the mufti.”
Hussein had earlier condemned the closure of the mosque compound for prayers.
“I have very little information about it, but it doesn’t mean you should close the mosque for prayers,” he told journalists at the Lions Gate entrance to the Old City, near the holy site.
Hussein was detained at the Lions Gate, the bodyguard said.