The two police officers shot dead in a terror attack at the Temple Mount complex in the Old City on Friday morning were identified as Haiel Sitawe and Kamil Shnaan, both hailing from Druze villages in northern Israel.
Just after 7:00 a.m. on Friday, three Arab Israeli terrorists opened fire on a group of police officers standing just outside the Temple Mount compound near the Old City’s Lions Gate. Sitawe and Shnaan were hit and seriously wounded. A third officer was struck by shrapnel and suffered light injuries.
The three terrorists behind the attack, who all came from the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, fled back to the Temple Mount compound and were shot dead by other police officers on the scene, a police spokesperson said.
Sitawe and Shnaan were treated by medics from the Magen David Adom ambulance service and taken to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Mt. Scopus, where they were pronounced dead.
Speaking to the press soon after the attack, Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said: “This was a tough morning for the police. We have two people killed, officers, who paid the dearest price in this battle.”
Sitawe, 30, hailed 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.
Sitawe joined the Border Police as part of his mandatory national service. He joined the Israel Police in 2012 and had served in the unit responsible for securing the Temple Mount ever since.
He leaves behind a wife, Irin, a three-week-old son, his parents and three brothers.
Heartbreaking: Israeli Police Master Sgt. Haiel Sitawe, who was murdered today in Jerusalem, is pictured with his newborn son, Ramos. pic.twitter.com/W9uAzAy92e
— Avi Mayer (@AviMayer) July 14, 2017
Shnaan joined the police directly after high school. He decided to stay on the police force seven months ago, signing on as a career officer.
He was the youngest son of a former Labor Party Knesset member, Shachiv Shnaan. His engagement party to his girlfriend was to be held next week.
Shnaan leaves behind his parents, one brother and three sisters.
Both Shnaan and Sitawe were posthumously promoted to the rank of master sergeant.
Sitawe’s funeral was scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday at a community center in Maghar. Shnaan’s is set to start at 5:30 p.m. in a community center in Hurfeish.
By the families’ agreement, the funerals will be open to the public and the media.
Following news of their deaths, Israeli politicians and former defense officials offered support for the Druze community of Israel.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement the “Jewish people have an eternal bond with our brothers, the Druze,” and said he mourned the deaths of Shnaan and Sitawe.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon wrote on Twitter that his “heart is with the families of the officers, our heroic Druze brothers who were murdered in this despicable attack.”
Former general Noam Tibon wrote in a tweet that he “salutes Druze soldiers,” having seen their “great contribution to the defense of Israel during my long years in the IDF.
“I embrace the Shnaan and Sitawe families on the loss of their sons,” he added.
The police commissioner described the attack as “extraordinary and extreme.”
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 exceedingly rare.
“A shooting on the Temple Mount is a an event that is grave, sensitive and full of meaning on the level of both [domestic] policy and internationally,” Alsheich said.
According to police, the attackers came from the Temple Mount. They walked toward the Lions Gate exit, then opened fire at the officers.
After the shooting, the terrorists fled toward the Temple Mount and other officers gave chase. The police 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.
The lightly injured officer was taken to Shaare Zedek Medical Center for treatment.
He had been hit by shrapnel and sustained wounds to the neck, arms and hands. A hospital spokesperson said he would likely be released before sundown on Friday, the start of the Jewish Shabbat.
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.
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, though Hamas did praise it, saying it was a “natural response to Israeli terrorism.”
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.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report