2 Israeli police officers killed in shooting in Jerusalem’s Old City
Jerusalem (CNN)Two Israeli police officers were killed in a shooting Friday in Jerusalem’s Old City, just outside one of the world’s most important religious sites.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said three armed assailants, whom he identified as terrorists, targeted police units in the area. One tried to stab a police officer, he said.
All three attackers were shot and killed, and the area was closed off, according to Rosenfeld. The injured were taken to nearby hospitals.
“I can confirm that the two police officers who were previously in critical condition have died of their wounds in hospital,” Rosenfeld said.
In a statement on his official Facebook page, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid tribute to the slain police officers, naming them as Haiel Sitawe, 30, father to a 3-week old son, and Kamil Shnaan, 22. Netanyahu said the officers were members of Israel’s Druze community, an Arabic-speaking religious minority.
“Our Druze brothers,” he said in a statement, paid “the heaviest price in our common endeavor to protect the security of the State. I salute them and their valor. We hold their memory dear in our hearts.”
The attackers were Israeli Arabs from Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel, Rosenfeld said.
Police released images of what they said were the assailants’ weapons, including a knife, a pistol and a homemade automatic firearm.
The attack took place a little after 7 a.m. local time by the Lions’ Gate in the Old City walls, next to what Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews the Temple Mount.
The area is home to the Western Wall — which was part of the walls around the Second Jewish Temple and is one of the holiest places for Jews to pray — and the Dome of the Rock, where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.
Video obtained by CNN showed part of the lethal confrontation in the plaza area of the Noble Sanctuary or Temple Mount.
A heavy police presence remains in the area, which is closed for security assessments, Rosenfeld said.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is within the closed area so Muslims will not be able hold Friday prayers there. Worshipers at the Western Wall will likely not be affected since it’s farther away from the scene of the attack.Jerusalem’s grand mufti, Mohammad Hussein, was arrested shortly after Friday prayers, which were held on a street outside the Old City.
Hussein wanted to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque, but police refused to allow him access, according to the Waqf, the authority that administers the Noble Sanctuary, also known as the Temple Mount.
An argument ensued, and Hussein was detained but later released.
The Palestinian Dar al-Ifta, an institute within the Palestinian Authority that issues religious edicts, condemned the arrest.
The mufti, who is in charge of the institute, is the top authority on Muslim law in Jerusalem and among Muslim Palestinians.
Fridays in Jerusalem are often a time of heightened security as it’s the holy day of the week for Muslims and Shabbat for Jews begins at sundown.
Though shootings are rare, stabbings and vehicle attacks in Jerusalem have been common in recent years.
A 23-year-old policewoman died last month after she was stabbed near the city’s Damascus Gate. Three assailants were shot and killed, police said.
In January, a man plowed his truck into a crowd of soldiers, killing four and injuring 10. The militant Islamist group Hamas, which runs Gaza, praised the attack but did not claim responsibility.