President Rivlin to Arab Israeli leaders: Condemn Temple Mount attack
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President Rivlin to Arab Israeli leaders: Condemn Temple Mount attack

After 2 police officers killed by Israeli Arab gunmen from Umm al-Fahm, top officials slam silence by local leaders, politicians

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin, Likud MK Avi Dichter, a former chief of the Shin Bet security service, and Zionist Union MK and former IDF major general Eyal Ben-Reuven urged Arab Israeli leaders on Friday to condemn the Temple Mount shooting attack, which saw three Arab Israeli gunmen kill two Israeli police officers at the holy site.

“It is time for the Arab leadership in Israel, and even outside it, to express a clear position against this criminal attack,” said Rivlin in a statement several hours after the 7 a.m. attack.

“The murderous terror attack at the Temple Mount was stopped by the courageous Israeli policemen who placed themselves in harm’s way and prevented an even greater disaster. 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 offshoots of terror and its perpetrators,” added the president.

The slain police officers were identified on Friday as Haiel Sitawe and Kamil Shnaan, both hailing from Druze villages in northern Israel. Sitawe, 30, came from the town of Maghar, a mostly Druze and Arab city in northern Israel. Shnaan, 22, was from the Druze village of Hurfeish, also in northern Israel. Shnaan was the youngest son of former Labor MK Shachiv Shnaan.

Master Sgt. Kamil Shnaan, left, and Master Sgt. Haiel Sitawe, right, the police officers killed in the terror attack next to the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)
Master Sgt. Kamil Shnaan, left, and Master Sgt. Haiel Sitawe, right, the police officers killed in the terror attack next to the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

“We are with our brothers today, the Druze community and the bereaved families who lost two beloved warriors,” Zionist Union lawmaker Ben-Reuven said in a statement Friday.

He added: “I call on the leaders of the Arab public in Israel to sharply condemn this despicable attack and offer condolences to the police officers’ families,” he said.

“From the moment it became apparent that the murderers who killed two Border Police officers and injured others were Arab Israelis from Umm Al-Fahm, I expected the leaders of the Arab Israelis, including an MK who carries the same name [as the attackers], to swiftly release a statement of condemnation of the heinous attack,” said Dichter, who heads the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The three gunmen, who all carry the same name of Muhammad Jabarin and hail from the Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm, were shot dead by security forces after opening fire on the Israeli officers. Dichter was referring to Joint (Arab) List MK Youssef Jabareen in his remarks, though it was unclear whether there was any relation between the MK and the attackers.

Avi Dichter, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, on December 8, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Avi Dichter, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, on December 8, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Arab Joint List has not released a statement on the deadly attack and none of its lawmakers have commented as of this writing.

“I expect the leaders to clarify where they stand,” said Dichter, noting the past activities of Hezbollah-aligned former Balad MK Azmi Bishara and former Arab Joint List MK Basel Ghattas, who is currently in prison for smuggling cellphones to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails.

“These pockets of poison from which these three murderers emerged this morning — I’m confident the security forces will know how to cleanse. At the same time, it is expected of Arab Israelis and their local leadership to expunge and expel any identification with these sorts of attacks,” added Dichter.

Former Labor leader MK Isaac Herzog on Friday sent his condolences to ex-MK Shnaan on Friday over the killing of his son.

“This is a very sad and painful day for the State of Israel and the Druze community, that lost two of its finest boys in the defense of the state and its citizens in a heinous and cruel attack on the Temple Mount,” said Herzog in a statement. “All of Israel is in mourning today and embraces the bereaved families and the entire Druze community.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister Michael Oren linked the UN cultural agency UNESCO for the attack, due to its support for Palestinian-led resolutions that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.

“I point an accusatory finger at UNESCO and the UN that allows for Jewish blood to be spilled with shameful decisions that deny any Jewish connection to our heritage sites,” he said. “This is how you revoke our right to our land and encourage attacks like today’s.”

Border Police officers walk on the Temple Mount after a shooting attack in the area left three people injured, two of them seriously, on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)
Border Police officers walk on the Temple Mount after a shooting attack in the area left three people injured, two of them seriously, on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

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.

Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Defense Ministry’s 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, 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 prayer arrangements at the sensitive 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.”

The shooting attack took place at 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, then opened fire at the Israelis. After the shooting, the terrorists fled 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.

A pistol and one of two Carlo-style submachine guns used in a shooting attack that left two Israeli seriously wounded near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)
A pistol and one of two Carlo-style submachine guns used in a shooting attack that left two Israeli seriously wounded near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

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.

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.

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