3 Palestinians, 2 Israeli police killed in Jerusalem attack
JERUSALEM - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone following Friday's attack near an ultra-sensitive holy site that killed two Israeli police, with three Palestinian assailants also shot dead.
"The president (Abbas) expressed his strong rejection and condemnation of the incident at the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque and his rejection of any act of violence from any side, especially in places of worship," official Palestinian news agency WAFA said.
"Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu ... called for calm on all sides."
Abbas has repeatedly called for non-violent resistance to Israel's occupation without specifically condemning Palestinian attacks. His statement regarding Friday's incident was stronger than previous such responses.
Netanyahu's office confirmed the phone call in a statement that said Abbas had condemned the incident.
"The prime minister said that Israel will take all the necessary measures in order to ensure the security on the (holy site) without changes in the status quo," a statement from his office said.
Three people opened fire on Israeli police in Jerusalem's Old City on Friday before fleeing to the ultra-sensitive holy site, where they were killed in one of the most serious incidents in the city in recent years.
Three people were wounded in the shooting, two of them critically, police had said.
Israeli police chief Roni Alsheich later said the two policemen died of the wounds they had sustained in the fighting.
The three Palestinians were shot dead by police, and a body could later be seen lying on the ground near the Al-Aqsa mosque at the holy site.
They had been armed with guns and knives, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Videos circulating on social media showed a hail of gunfire ring out in what seemed to be an exchange of bullets between Israeli security forces and the assailants.
Security forces locked down the area and the Al-Aqsa mosque was closed to Friday prayers after the attack in a highly unusual move, with the incident and its aftermath likely to heighten Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
No details were immediately available on the identity of the attackers.
The three were killed at the site known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount, the location of regular clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, but where gunfire rarely occurs.
The site includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
A number of attacks have occurred around Jerusalem's Old City in recent months, but they have often involved knives.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with security officials and said checks were continuing in the area to ensure there were no other assailants, a statement from his office said.
Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called it an "extremely severe event which crossed all red lines."
"The investigation is ongoing," he said.
"We will need to re-evaluate all of the security arrangements on the Temple Mount and its environs. I call on leaders on every side to work to calm the situation and maintain the quiet in Jerusalem."
The grand mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the city's highest Islamic authority, condemned the closure of the mosque compound for prayers.
"I have very little information about it, but it doesn't mean you should close the mosque for prayers," he told journalists at the Lions Gate entrance to the Old City, near the holy site.
"There is no reason to close the mosque for Friday prayers."
Israeli security forces later detained the grand Mufti as crowds gathered in the Old City following the attack.
Hussein's son Jihad Hussein told AFP his father had been taken to a police station near the Old City.
"Until now, we don't know what is going on with my father," he said.
One of the mufti's bodyguards, Khaled Hamo, said police "entered the crowd and took the mufti."
Israeli police said they had no comment. Hussein was released later in the day without charge after being questioned over his call for Muslims to come to Jerusalem.
Basem Badawi, a 60-year-old water seller who was in the Old City at the time of the attack, said that "I was standing here and then I heard the shooting. I thought it was fireworks.
"But then I saw the police coming from everywhere."
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The Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount is considered the third-holiest site in Islam and the most sacred in Judaism.
It is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Palestinians fearing Israel may one day seek to assert further control over it.
It is located in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.
Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions. Netanyahu said in his statement after the attack that the current rules would be maintained.
The site is administered by the Islamic Waqf organisation. Waqf officials said its guards at the site had been detained by Israeli police following the attack.
UN chief Antonio Guterres condemned the attack, adding: "This incident has the potential to ignite further violence. All must act responsibly to avoid escalation."
Guterres praised Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for swiftly condemning the violence and offering assurances that the holy sites in Jerusalem will be respected.
"The sanctity of religious sites should be respected as places for reflection, not violence," Guterres said.
A wave of unrest that broke out in October 2015 has claimed the lives of at least 277 Palestinians, 42 Israelis, two Americans, two Jordanians, an Eritrean, a Sudanese and a Briton, according to an AFP toll.
Israeli authorities say most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks.
But many were shot dead in protests and clashes, while some were killed in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.
The violence has greatly subsided in recent months, though sporadic attacks have continued.
Israel has claimed that violence is caused largely by Palestinian 'incitement'.
Palestinians have instead pointed chiefly to frustration with Israel's illegal military occupation of their lands, as well as despair at the absence of a political horizon and the lack of prospects for a Palestinian state.
Palestinians have also pointed out that Israeli violence against civilians has remained a constant factor of everyday life under the occupation, now in its 50th year, regardless of any recent increase in clashes or attacks.