JERUSALEM – A Palestinian teacher shot and killed an Israeli tour guide with an automatic gun near the holiest site in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, Israeli officials said. This is the first killing of a Jewish Israeli citizen by a Palestinian gunman since May.
The militant Islamist group Hamas says the gunman was a senior member of their movement in East Jerusalem.
The attack immediately revived calls from right-wing Israelis to install metal detectors near the entrance to the holy site – known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Nobel Sanctuary or Aqsa Mosque compound – a proposal that caused serious unrest. When the Palestinians tried to implement Israel’s latest concept in 2017. Such a plan could spark tensions within the fragile Israeli ruling coalition, a diverse coalition that includes Jewish right-wing groups and an Arab group.
Tensions over the holy site have played a major role in the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas this year, both for Jews and Muslims.
The bomber struck shortly after 9 a.m. in an alley outside the scene of Sunday’s attack, killing at least three civilians and two police officers. According to Magen David Adom, an Israeli correspondent for the International Committee of the Red Cross, a civilian was killed, a second civilian was moderately injured and two police officers and a third civilian were lightly wounded.
The dead man was later named by police as Eliahu K, a tour guide working on the Western Wall, the last remnant of an ancient Jewish temple that was destroyed in antiquity.
A few seconds after the attack, security officials shot and killed the attacker, according to Om Bar Lev, an Israeli minister in police custody.
The gunman was identified by Israeli and Palestinian media as Fadi Abu Shakhayedem, 42, a teacher in a Palestinian district in East Jerusalem. In a statement released by a Hamas-owned television channel, he was identified as a senior leader of the Shufat movement in an area of East Jerusalem where most Palestinians live whose families fled the fighting during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
In the statement, Hamas – which operates the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and other countries – praised the attacker and acknowledged its role in the movement but did not directly accept responsibility for the attack.
Political violence is common in the Old City of Jerusalem, which was occupied by Israel from Jordan during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and later annexed. Police officers killed a second Palestinian assailant after a separate attack in the Old City last week, and shot dead two others in a failed attempt in September.
The Palestinians consider the old city to be occupied and hope that it will be part of the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Sunday’s attack was relatively unusual because it involved a gun, and such attacks often do not result in the death of an Israeli civilian. Other recent attempts at Old City have seen attackers stabbing and targeting security officials, but police shot and killed the attackers before they were able to kill anyone.
In a statement, Mr Bar Lev said the assassin’s wife had fled to a foreign country three days earlier, which was a bit predictable for the attack.
Following the assassination, a second government minister, Yooj Hendel, called for the installation of metal detectors outside the Aqsa compound, a move originally proposed by Israel in 2017 but was scrapped after the violence began, leaving several dead.
For the Jews, Temple Mount is considered the holiest place in Judaism because it was once the location of two temples where traditionally the presence of God was revealed. For Palestinians, the Nobel Sanctuary is seen as the center of their national identity because, in Islamic tradition, this is where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
A visit in 2000 by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon, who became prime minister a year later, was seen as one of the main sparks of the second Palestinian intifada or uprising.
Since 1967, Israel has allowed the Jordanian government to maintain administrative oversight of the site, and nominally allowed Jews to visit the premises only, not to pray there. But Israel oversees overall security and controls access. Israeli police have recently begun quietly allowing Jews to pray in the area, often conducting raids during unrest. Several Israeli raids in April and May set the stage for the next 11 days of fighting between Israel and militants in Gaza.
Large-scale clashes in Gaza have been avoided since May due to the two sides holding indirect talks to stabilize the ceasefire. However, low-level violence has increased in the occupied West Bank. According to UN documents, seven Palestinians have been killed so far this year in protests, clashes and raids in the West Bank – more than in any other year since 2016. There have also been attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank. Five-year high, according to UN data.
At least 12 Israelis were killed in the West Bank in 2021, more than in 2019 or 2020, but less than in 2017 or 2018.
Irit Pazner Garshowitz Contribution research.