Touring the Temple Mount complex, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich on Friday said the deadly shooting terror attack earlier in the day that left two Israeli police officers dead was an “exceptional” incident of international significance.
“This is an exceptional and extreme incident,” Alsheich said shortly after touring the holy site. “The shooting on the Temple Mount is a serious, sensitive and significant event on the political and international level and will be dealt with accordingly.”
The entire Temple Mount complex was closed to worshipers Friday while police searched for weapons. In a statement, the Israel Police emphasized the closure was solely for security reasons and did not represent a change in the status quo.
Major General Yoav (Poly) Mordechai, head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), released a video statement in Arabic, saying the terrorists had “defiled” the holy site.
“Therefore, now and for a short time, the Israeli security forces are taking steps to ensure that there are no more weapons in place. We want to maintain freedom of worship,” he said in a video released on social media, apparently to quell Palestinians concerns of changes to the arrangements at the flashpoint site.
“We hope the entire Arab world will condemn the attack in a clear manner,” he said. “The compound was evacuated and closed, and the Friday prayers were banned. Members of the Waqf are being questioned at the site.”
Alsheich was briefed on the incident by the head of the Jerusalem police, as a gag order was lifted revealing the three victims were police officers. Two were critically injured, and died later in the hospital. The third was lightly wounded.
A hospital spokesperson at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, which received the lightly wounded officer, told the Times of Israel that “one policeman arrived with light injuries from shrapnel. He has been treated in the emergency room and is now having a series of tests before likely being released before Shabbat.”
The terrorists, who were killed on the spot by Israeli security forces, were identified as Arab Israelis from the city of Umm al-Fahm.
The shooting attack took place just outside the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem’s Old City.
According to police, the attackers came from the Temple Mount shortly after 7 a.m. They walked toward the Lions’ Gate exit of the Old City, then opened fire at the officers.
After the shooting, the terrorists fled back toward the Temple Mount and police gave chase. The officers then opened fire, shooting the terrorists dead inside the complex.
In a video from the scene, one of the suspected terrorists can be seen lying on the ground on the Temple Mount, surrounded by police who have their weapons drawn.
The man suddenly springs up and lunges at one of the police officers with a knife, but is shot before he can stab anybody, a police spokesperson said.
A search of their bodies revealed two Carlo-style submachine guns and a pistol that were used to carry out the attack, police said.
The knife was also recovered at the scene, though it was not used in the attack.
Following the attack, Jerusalem Police chief Yoram Halevi canceled prayers for the day on the Temple Mount, ordering the complex cleared and the entrances to the holy site closed. Police also placed checkpoints at the entrances to the Old City.
The two seriously wounded victims were taken to Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus for treatment. They were pronounced dead at the hospital.
It was not immediately known how the terrorists brought the weapons into the holy site. Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount complex go through a less rigorous security check than non-Muslim visitors who enter through the Mughrabi Bridge.
No terror groups took immediate responsibility for the attack.
While shootings and stabbings have been common in the Old City of Jerusalem in the past two years, attacks on or near the Temple Mount itself are rare.
Last month, a border police officer, 23-year-old Hadas Malka, was stabbed to death in an attack near the Damascus Gate, a frequent site of terror attacks.
The past two years have seen an ongoing wave of Palestinian violence in the West Bank and Israel, though it has waned in recent months.
Since September 2015, mainly Palestinian assailants have killed 43 Israelis, two visiting Americans, a Palestinian man and a British student, mainly in stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks. In that time, some 280 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, a majority of them attackers, according to authorities.
The Israeli government has blamed the terrorism and violence on incitement by Palestinian political and religious leaders compounded by social media accounts that glorify violence and encourage attacks.