Israelis awoke to a brazen terror attack Friday morning on the Temple Mount that left two police officers dead and one injured. Three terrorists, armed with guns and knives, were shot and killed.
The police officers, Haiel Sitawe, 30, and Kamil Shnaan, 22, both come from Druze villages in northern Israel. A third officer was hit by shrapnel and lightly injured.
The three terrorists, Arab citizens of Israel, opened fire on a group of police officers standing outside the Temple Mount complex’s Lions Gate at around 7 a.m. Friday. They then fled back into the Temple Mount where officers pursued them and opened fire.
“This is an exceptional and extreme incident,” Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said. “The shooting on the Temple Mount is a serious, sensitive and significant event on the political and international level and will be dealt with accordingly.”
After the attack, police closed the Temple Mount to worshipers for the rest of the day Friday, the Muslim holy day, in order to complete their investigation and search for more weapons. The Israeli decision to close the site in the past has been met with rioting.
Sitawe leaves behind a wife, Irin, and a 3 week-old son. Shnaan, the youngest son of a former Labor Party Knesset member Shachiv Shnaan, was supposed to be engaged soon.
While shootings and stabbings have been common in the Old City of Jerusalem in the past two years, none of the attacks have been launched from the Temple Mount. Last month, 23-year-old Hadas Malka, a border police officer, was stabbed to death in an attack near the Damascus Gate.
In a rare occurrence, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, the official PA media agency Wafa reported.
“The [PA] president expressed his strong rejection and condemnation of the incident that took place at the holy al-Aksa Mosque,” according to Wafa. “He affirmed his rejection of any violent incident [carried out] by any party, especially in houses of worship.”
Three hours before the attack, two of the terrorists posted a photo on Facebook of themselves on the Temple Mount — a photo which garnered nearly 2,000 likes and 1,000 comments within three hours of the attack.
“The smile will be more beautiful tomorrow,” read the caption.
Just before the attack, one of them wrote on Facebook: “Thank God and enough.”
A relative of one of the terrorists said the family knew nothing of the attack.
“We are all in shock. If we had known, we would have stopped them immediately,” he said. “We do not lack problems. We are against such acts. This shooting contributes nothing to us but destroys everything.”