Police have arrested eight suspects and uncovered dozens of weapons following a deadly terror attack by three Arab Israelis just outside the Temple Mount compound on Friday in which two officers were killed, the Jerusalem Police chief said.
Police believe the shooting attack was carried out with weapons that had previously been stored on the Temple Mount, prompting police to shut down the complex to all visitors on Friday, the most popular day for Muslim prayers on the holy site, and launch a search for other weapons that might be stored there.
However, in the searches on Friday and Saturday, police failed to uncover guns or serious explosives, Jerusalem Police Chief Yoram Halevi told Army Radio on Sunday.
“We’ve been all over. Two days is definitely not enough, but we’ve covered large swaths of the area, where we suspected had things hidden in them,” he said.
“We found dozens of knives, slingshots, cudgels, spikes, inciting material, unexploded munitions, stun grenades, binoculars — but we haven’t yet found caches of live ammunition.”
Israel’s decision to close off the holy site — the first time it has taken that measure on a Friday since 1969 — sparked outcries of criticism from across the Middle East, including inside Israel.
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Halevi said the attack, in which three Arab Israeli men opened fire at a group of police officers just outside the Temple Mount, was unlike any other in Israel’s history, calling it a “dramatic terror attack in a dramatic place.”
“In decades, we’ve never had a terror attack on the Temple Mount, never had police officers killed on the Temple Mount,” Halevi said.
While the three terrorists who carried out the attack were killed on the holy site, after running back there once they’d shot the officers, the two police officers were actually killed just outside the Temple Mount, near the Old City’s Lions Gate, which is close to the entrance to the compound.
In his interview with Army Radio, Halevi tried to stave off expected criticism, saying that officers had worked closely with the Muslim Waqf, which oversees day-to-day religious operations on the Temple Mount, in order to ensure that the site was not “desecrated.”
“Today, when it reopens, there will be those people who will say that we desecrated, that we destroyed, that we broke [things],” said Halevi, speaking shortly before Israel reopened the compound.
“The search was coordinated with Waqf officials, including even having one or two Waqf people accompany us so that we don’t desecrate the place,” he said. “We had police officers taking off their shoes before going into the mosque in order to make sure they didn’t desecrate the place.”
Halevi added that he also ordered the Jerusalem municipality to clean the Temple Mount.
At noon on Sunday, the police partially reopened the site, allowing only Jerusalem residents to enter. A series of metal detectors, security checkpoints and additional officers were set up at the entrances, which prompted protests by members of the Waqf who opposed the changes.
In the interview, Halevi said that more changes to the security arrangements for the Temple Mount would be introduced in light of the attack, though he said it would take time before they were implemented. “It’s a long process,” he said
In addition to the searches on the Temple Mount itself, the police have also been working to find anyone who may have helped the gunmen — all three of them were named Muhammad Jabarin, from the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel — or known about their plans in advance.
Though details of the investigation are under a gag order, the Jerusalem Police chief violated it, telling the radio station that thus far eight people have been arrested in connection with the attack.
“That includes four [people] in the north, including one who we suspect assisted them, as well as members of the family and their bus driver,” he said.
According to Halevi, though the gunmen reportedly had ties to the Northern Branch [of the Islamic Movement], an outlawed organization that Israel says has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, no one from the group has been arrested thus far.
In Jerusalem, a number of Waqf officials were arrested over the weekend, questioned and then released, on suspicion of incitement, Halevi said.
The two police officers killed, Haiel Sitawe and Kamil Shnaan, both hailed from Druze villages in northern Israel. Both were laid to rest Friday.
Sitawe, 30, came from the town of Maghar, a mostly Druze and Arab city. Shnaan, 22, was from the Druze village of Hurfeish.
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 left behind a wife, Irin, a three-week-old son, his parents and three brothers.
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 left behind his parents, one brother and three sisters.
Both Shnaan and Sitawe were posthumously promoted to the rank of master sergeant.