Two police officers were killed on Friday when three Palestinians opened fire on Israelis near a major Jerusalem holy site, police said.

The assailants fled into the sacred compound and were killed in a gunfight with security forces.

The rare gunfight took place inside a sacred hilltop compound in Jerusalem, known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary or al-Haram al-Sharif. 

Israeli police force spokesperson Luba Samri said the shooting began early Friday, near Lion’s Gate, one of the entrances into Jerusalem’s walled Old City.

Samri said the attackers opened fire on Israelis and then fled into the compound. Police chased and killed the assailants, she said.

Amateur video broadcast on Israeli TV stations showed a few seconds of what appeared to be the confrontation between Israeli security forces and the attackers.

In the video, several people — only visible as dark figures in the footage shot from a distance — were running inside the compound. At one point, one of the figures dropped to the ground. In another moment, a puff of smoke, possibly from gunfire, was visible.

Two rifles, a hand gun and a knife were found on the bodies of the attackers.

The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, later identified the assailants as Arab citizens of Israel and members of the Jabareen clan. A relative told The Associated Press the three men were devout Muslims who frequently visited the shrine, adding that clan members are in shock over the attack. 

Police are probing how the men were able to approach the Old City with weapons. Heavy security is in place in the area, particularly on Fridays.


Israeli policemen stand guard as Palestinian men take part in Friday prayers outside Jerusalem’s Old City. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

Muslim cleric detained

The area was cleared by police after the attack and closed for Friday prayers — the highlight of the Muslim religious week, which typically draws tens of thousands of worshippers who flock to the compound from Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Muslim worshippers instead prayed in the streets nearby, lining up near Damascus Gate and other entrances to the Old City. Worshippers dispersed after the prayers without incident.

The top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, called on Palestinians to defy the closure and was reportedly detained by police later in the day. 

Following the shooting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to preserve long-standing access arrangements at a contested Jerusalem holy site, in an apparent attempt to allay Muslim fears after Israel ordered the volatile shrine closed for a day following a Palestinian shooting attack there.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack in a phone call with Netanyahu, but also said closing down the area could have repercussions.

​The area is the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. It has been a flashpoint for violence in the past, with friction there sparking major rounds of Israeli-Palestinian violence, including a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation that lasted several years.

Friday’s violence marked only the third time since Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War that authorities ordered the Muslim-administered compound closed, said Ikrema Sabri, a prayer leader at the holy site.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, though the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, praised it.