Jerusalem — Arab assailants struck at ground zero of the Israeli-Palestinian 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 Muslim-administered 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 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.
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.
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