Israeli Is Killed by Disguised Palestinian Militant Near Holiest Site in Jerusalem
The shooting, the first attack by a Palestinian since May to result in the death of a Jewish civilian, could deepen tensions within Israel’s fragile governing coalition.,
JERUSALEM — A Palestinian teacher disguised as an ultra-Orthodox Jew shot dead an Israeli tour guide with an automatic gun near the holiest site in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, Israeli officials said. It was the first killing of a Jewish Israeli civilian by a Palestinian gunman since May.
The militant Islamist group, Hamas, said the gunman was a senior member of its movement in East Jerusalem.
The attack immediately revived calls from right-wing Israelis to install metal detectors near the entrances to the holy site — known as the Temple Mount to Jews and as the Noble Sanctuary or the Aqsa Mosque compound to Muslims — a proposal that set off deadly unrest among Palestinians when Israel last tried to implement the idea in 2017. Such a plan would also risk aggravating tensions within the fragile Israeli governing coalition, a diverse alliance that includes Jewish right-wing parties and an Arab group.
Tensions over the site, which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims, played a major role in the prelude to an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas this year.
The gunman in the attack on Sunday opened fire on at least three civilians and two police officers shortly after 9 a.m. in an alley outside the site. One civilian was killed by a shot to the head, a second civilian was moderately wounded and two police officers and a third civilian were lightly hurt, according to Magen David Adom, the Israeli affiliate of the International Red Cross.
The man killed was later named by the police as Eliyahu Kay, a tour guide who was on his way to work at the Western Wall, the last remaining part of an ancient Jewish temple that was destroyed in antiquity.
The attacker was wearing the clothes of an ultra-Orthodox Jew and was shot dead by security officers seconds after the assault, according to Omer Bar Lev, an Israeli minister who oversees the police.
The gunman was named in the Israeli and Palestinian news media as Fadi Abu Shkhaydem, 42, a teacher from a Palestinian district in East Jerusalem. In a statement published by a television channel owned by the militant group Hamas, he was identified as a senior leader of the movement in Shuafat, an area of East Jerusalem that mostly houses Palestinians whose families fled fighting during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.
In the statement, Hamas — which runs the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and other countries — praised the attacker and acknowledged his role within the movement but did not directly claim responsibility for the attack.
Political violence is common in the Old City of Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel from Jordan during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 and later annexed. Police officers killed a second Palestinian assailant in the Old City this past week after a separate attack, and shot dead two others in failed attempts in September.
Palestinians regard the Old City as occupied and hope that it will form part of the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The attack on Sunday was relatively unusual because it involved a gun and because such assaults do not often result in the death of an Israeli civilian. Other recent attempts in the Old City have seen attackers wielding knives and targeting security officials, but the assailants were shot dead by the police before being able to kill anyone.
In a statement, Mr. Bar Lev said that the assailant’s wife left for a foreign country three days ago, implying some degree of forethought to the attack.
After the killing, a second government minister, Yoaz Hendel, called for the installation of metal detectors outside the Aqsa compound, a move originally proposed by Israel in 2017 but aborted after it set off violence that left several people dead.
For Jews, the Temple Mount is considered the most sacred place in Judaism because it was once the location of two temples where tradition holds that God’s presence was revealed. For Palestinians, the Noble Sanctuary is seen as central to their national identity because in Islamic tradition, it is where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
A visit to the site in 2000 by Ariel Sharon, then the leader of the Israeli opposition who a year later became prime minister, is seen as one of the main sparks of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Since 1967, Israel has allowed the Jordanian government to retain administrative oversight of the site, and nominally permits Jews only to visit the compound, not to pray there. But Israel also retains overall security oversight and controls access. The Israeli police recently began to quietly allow Jewish prayer at the site, and have often raided it during times of unrest. Several Israeli raids last April and May formed the backdrop to a subsequent 11-day war between Israel and militants in Gaza.
Major flare-ups in Gaza have been averted since May as the two sides conduct indirect negotiations to stabilize the cease-fire. But low-level violence has surged in the occupied West Bank. According to records compiled by the United Nations, 76 Palestinians have been killed so far this year during protests, clashes and raids in the West Bank — higher than in any year since 2016. Attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank are also at a five-year high, according to United Nations data.
At least 12 Israelis have been killed in the West Bank in 2021, higher than in either 2019 or 2020, but lower than in 2017 or 2018.
Irit Pazner Garshowitzcontributed research.