After attacks, officials seek ‘unprecedented’ Damascus Gate security boost
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After attacks, officials seek ‘unprecedented’ Damascus Gate security boost

Entrance way to Jerusalem’s Old City to get elevated observation sites, advanced technology, ministers say, decrying site as ‘symbol of Palestinian terror’

Israeli security forces standing guard outside Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem's Old City on June 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli security forces standing guard outside Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem's Old City on June 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel is planning to significantly beef up security at the Damascus Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City following several deadly attacks in the area over the past two years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Thursday.

“Murderers have gathered at this gate time after time, attacking time after time,” the prime minister said at an event in Bat Yam. “It has become a symbol of terror.”

Last Friday, June 16, three Palestinian men carried out a stabbing and shooting attack near the gate, killing border guard Hadas Malka and injuring four others. Security has been significantly ramped up since at the site, the main entrance into the Old City for many East Jerusalem Muslims as well as ultra-Orthodox Jews, with Arabs subjected to pat downs and searches.

Speaking earlier Thursday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said there had been 32 attacks in the area over the past two and a half years, and promised to upgrade security.

Israeli security forces at the scene of a terror attack near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on June 16, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli security forces at the scene of a terror attack near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on June 16, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I can tell you that we are going to conduct unprecedented changes on all of these security plans of the Damascus Gate: cameras, intelligence, police posts and changing the topography of the Gate,” Erdan told participants at an annual regional security conference at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. “We will do everything to drastically minimize attacks at this particular location. The Damascus Gate is going to go through a revolution.”

Netanyahu said he had met on Wednesday with Erdan, Police Chief Roni Alsheich and Jerusalem Police Chief Yoram Halevi to discuss security improvements at Damascus Gate.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the cornerstone laying ceremony for a new park in Bat Yam, built in the name of late Yoni Netanyahu. June 22, 2017. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the cornerstone laying ceremony for a new park in Bat Yam, built in memory of the late Yoni Netanyahu, the prime minister’s brother, June 22, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Reportedly, the plans include setting up more security cameras to show what is happening in real time and specialized cameras to photograph license plates of all passing cars. There are also reportedly plans for drones to hover constantly over the area.

Border Police officer Hadas Malka was killed on June 16, 2017 in a stabbing attack near Damascus Gate. (Courtesy)
Border Police officer Hadas Malka was killed on June 16, 2017 in a stabbing attack near Damascus Gate. (Courtesy)

In addition, watchtowers are to be built for soldiers guarding the area as well as an improved lighting system.

Security forces are also said to be considering flattening the topography of the area to speed up response time in the event of an attack.

Channel 2 reported that lanes will be set up at the gate so that everyone entering will pass through a security check.

Israeli security forces standing guard outside Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem's Old City on June 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli security forces standing guard outside Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem’s Old City on June 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu said the security changes would also balance freedom of movement concerns.

“We are always concerned with freedom for all to come and pray. And of course also to respect holy sites,” he said. “We do this in an outstanding manner, given the stormy Middle East around us. We protect the status quo.”

The Damascus Gate, the main entrance into the Muslim Quarter, is usually teeming with local residents and tourists and already has a constant, extensive presence of security personnel, with Border Police officers spread throughout the area on foot patrols, horseback and behind barriers.

Israeli security forces check Palestinian women in front of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City before allowing them to board a bus that will take them back to the West Bank on June 17, 2017. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Israeli security forces check Palestinian women in front of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City before allowing them to board a bus that will take them back to the West Bank on June 17, 2017. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)

The ongoing, though waning, terror wave that began in October 2015 has been marked by attacks carried out by so-called “lone wolves,” who act without direct organizational support or instruction, unlike in the Second Intifada when established terror groups directed the attacks.

Since September 2015, mostly 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 250 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 on social media sites that glorify violence and encourage attacks.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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