Tensions Remain High after Temple Mount Terror Attack

July 17, 2017

by: Ilse Posselt

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Kaamil Shnaan and Hail Stawi, the 2 slain police officers

Monday, 17 July 2017 | Tradition holds that the name Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim, is a conjunction of two Hebrew words: ir and shalem. Ir means city, while shalem derives from shalom, or peace, which makes Jerusalem the City of Peace. The past two millennia have, however, seen this particular city being plagued by unceasing violence, wars and unrest. In recent history, Palestinian suicide bombers turned Jerusalem’s busses, restaurants and shopping malls into raging infernos during the First and Second Intifadas (uprisings). During the recent wave of terror, a number of Palestinian terrorists chose Israel’s capital as the spot to strike.

On Friday morning, the City of Peace once again suffered the onslaught of hate-driven terror. Just after 7:00 a.m., three Arab Israelis armed with automatic weapons opened fire on a group of Israeli police officers stationed at the Lions’ Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. A gun-fight ensued. When the hail of bullets died down, the three terrorists were dead.

Two Israeli police officers suffered grave injuries and succumbed to their wounds moments later. Both victims, Master Sergeant Hail Stawi, 30, and Master Sergeant Kaamil Shnaan, 22, are from Israel’s Druze community. Stawi recently became a father for the first time and leaves behind a wife and a three-week-old son.

While the City of Peace has seen more than its share of bombings and gun, knife and vehicular assaults over the past few years, Friday’s attack was different. As soon as the three terrorists had fired their first salvo of shots, they turned and fled to the Temple Mount platform in an attempt to find refuge from the pursuing Israeli security forces in one of the mosques. It was here, in the spot that Muslims call the noble sanctuary, that two of the three terrorists made a final attempt to murder even more Israeli security officials before they died.

The Temple Mount is widely regarded as one of the Old City of Jerusalem’s most important religious sites. Judaism holds it as the holiest place, the location where both the First and Second Temple stood. Muslims vigorously dispute this claim. They hold that the presence of Judaism’s First and Second Temples on the site are untrue, and call it exclusively their own, naming it the third holiest site in Islam. According to Muslim tradition, it is the place where the prophet Mohammad made a miraculous nighttime journey in the year AD 621. Traveling 666 nautical miles from Mecca on a specially gifted horse, he ascended into heaven where he engaged in dialogue with Allah before returning to Mecca that same night. In honor of the prophet’s “visit,” the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock were constructed in AD 637 after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem.

These two claims by Judaism and Islam make the Temple Mount one of the most contested religious sites on earth.

Following traditional Friday midday prayers, Muslims are known to clash with Israeli security forces and the area directly surrounding the Temple Mount is notorious for significant unrest. Yet until Friday, there have been no attacks of this sort and scale in such close proximity to the holy site.

The Times of Israel called the Temple Mount attack “a rarity even in a land where terror has become rote.” Moreover, the paper’s veteran Middle East analyst, Avi Issacharoff, argues that the trio of attackers chose the sensitive site particularly to “set the Middle East ablaze.”

According to Issacharoff, the terrorists “anticipated that a shooting spree at the Temple Mount compound, which would end with their deaths too, would gain massive media coverage—and knew that previous such incidents had set in motion a still more bloody chain of events.”

Three days after the attack, the situation in heart of the City of Peace remains tense. In the aftermath of the shooting, Israel cleared the compound of visitors and worshippers out of concern that more terrorists and weapons might be hidden in the Temple Mount’s mosques. The Jewish state also cancelled scheduled Friday prayers, which thousands usually attend, for the first time in 17 years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the decision, saying, “It was decided to shut the Temple Mount today for security reasons. Searches will be carried out to ensure there are no more weapons at the [site].” He was, however, quick to add that the attack would not change the prayer rights that Muslims enjoy at the site. “The status quo on the Temple Mount will be preserved,” he assured.

Israel’s Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, addressed the possibility of implications. “The terror attack today is a severe and dire event in which all red lines have been crossed. The attack is still under investigation and will force us to look into existing security arrangements at Temple Mount and in its vicinity. I call on all public figures to do all in their power to calm the situation and keep the peace.”

The Temple Mount reopened under stringent security on Sunday morning. A statement from Netanyahu’s office released on Saturday night explained that the prime minister made the decisions following a conference with the relevant security chiefs. Investigations as to how the three terrorists managed to smuggle weapons past security services from the Waqf, an Islamic trust that governs the site, are ongoing.

As part of the tightened security measures, Israel installed metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount. While the steps were taken to ensure everybody’s safety and prevent further attacks, Palestinian worshippers who streamed to the site opposed the measures and took to public rioting in the Old City of Jerusalem. According to The Mideast Update, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Fatah political party that rules the PA also expressed their displeasure over the metal detectors.

The international response to the terror attack—and its aftermath—varied.

The Waqf accused Israel of taking control of the Temple Mount and searching the mosques. Waqf officials also refused to acknowledge the deadly terror attack and simply refer to it as the “event.”

The Arab world condemned the Jewish state for closing the site to prayers, claiming that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is in danger. Hamas welcomed the assault and staged a rally to celebrate the murders. The terror group ruling the Gaza Strip also hailed the temporary closure of the Temple Mount as a “religious war” and called on Palestinians to launch further attacks against the Israeli army and residents of Judea and Samaria.

In a rare move, PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, telephoned Netanyahu to condemn the attack. Jordan’s King Abdullah II also called the prime minister on Saturday evening to denounce the assault, but in the same breath demanded that Israel open the Temple Mount to Muslim worshippers immediately. Moreover, less than 24 hours after his call, the Jordanian parliament lauded the three terrorists and described them as “martyrs.”

A number of other world leaders were more direct in their condemnation. A statement released by the White House made the US’s position clear. “The people of the United States strongly condemn the terror attack. There must be zero tolerance for terrorism. It is incompatible for achieving peace and we must condemn it in the strongest terms, defeat it and eradicate it.”

The statement also said that the US “applauds and welcomes” Israel’s decision to close the Temple Mount while investigations are ongoing.

Britain’s Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, decried the “horrific terror attack,” saying that he is “saddened and appalled by this despicable act and offer my condolences to the victims and their families. The UK continues to stand with Israel against terrorism.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined the chorus of outrage and warned that such acts could ignite further violence. For its part, the European Union denounced the assault as “not only a crime against people on duty, but also a profanation of [the] holy site. There can be no justification for such a crime or any act of terror.”

Posted on July 17, 2017

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 17 July 2017)

Photo Credit: CIDI/Twitter

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