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2 policemen shot dead near Jerusalem holy site

Reuters

Israeli border police secure the area near the scene of a shooting attack in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday.

ReutersJERUSALEM (Reuters) — Three Arab-Israeli gunmen opened fire at police near Jerusalem’s holiest site on Friday, killing two Israeli policemen, before security forces killed the attackers, police said.

Israeli authorities shut the area after the attacks — the most serious incident in years close to the highly sensitive compound, which is holy to both Muslims and Jews.

The closure stopped Muslims gathering there for Friday prayers, drawing a call for resistance from Palestinian leaders.

The gunmen arrived at the sacred site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, and walked towards one of the Old City gates nearby, police spokeswoman Luba Simri said.

“When they saw policemen they shot towards them and then escaped towards one of the mosques in the Temple Mount compound,” Simri said. “A chase ensued and the three terrorists were killed by police.”

She said three firearms were found on their bodies. The Shin Bet Israeli internal security service said the three gunmen were Arab citizens of Israel.

There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank. No group claimed responsibility, though the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, praised the attack.

“Hamas lauds the heroic operation in Jerusalem,” Hamas spokesman Abdel-Latif al-Qanoua said in a statement.

Mobile phone video footage aired by Israeli media showed several policemen chasing a man and shooting him down at the site, which is a popular place for foreign tourists to visit. Israeli authorities are still working to identify the attackers, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

The Israeli ambulance service Magen David Adom said a third policeman was lightly wounded in the incident.

Tensions are often high around the marble-and-stone compound that houses the Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. It is managed by Jordanian religious authorities and is adjacent to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews are permitted to pray.

Police said Friday prayers for Muslims would not be held at the site following the attack for security reasons, while forces scanned the area for weapons and investigated the incident.

Authorities have often restricted access to the Aqsa mosque when concerned about possible violence there, but a total shutdown is rare.

The Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Hussein, called on Palestinians to defy the shutdown.

“We completely reject the ban by Israeli authorities,” Hussein told Reuters. “We have urged our Palestinian people to rush to al Aqsa today and every day to hold their prayers.”

His call was later echoed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement.

In an apparent effort to ease tensions, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement there would be no change to the agreement on shared use.Speech

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