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Two Israeli police shot dead in attack at Jerusalem holy site

Three Palestinian attackers have opened fire on Israeli police from inside a major Jerusalem holy site, killing two officers before being shot dead, officials said.

The rare attack from within the contested shrine, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, raises new concerns about an escalation of violence.

Police identified the attackers as Arab citizens of Israel.

The sacred compound is at the fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has triggered major confrontations in the past.

After the attack, Israel closed the site for further weapons sweeps. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said it will reopen gradually, after security evaluations on Sunday.

Jordan, a custodian of the sacred compound, called for its immediate reopening.

The rare closure meant a cancellation of noon prayers, which typically draw tens of thousands of Muslims from Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank to the compound on Fridays.

Unable to reach the shrine, some of the faithful performed prayers in the streets near Jerusalem's walled Old City and then dispersed quietly.

Mr Netanyahu quickly tried to allay Muslim fears, saying that the status quo at the Muslim-administered site "will be preserved".

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed Momani said Israel must not take any steps that "would change the historic situation in Jerusalem" and at the shrine.

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin said: "We cannot allow for agents of murder who desecrate the name of God to drag us into a bloody war."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke to Mr Netanyahu in a phone call, highlighting the concern about a possible escalation. The leaders have almost no direct contact.

Mr Abbas condemned the attack and said he rejects "any violence from any party, particularly at holy sites", said the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

The sacred compound, popular with tourists, is the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

The shooting was the latest in a wave of Palestinian attacks that erupted in 2015, in part over tensions at the Jerusalem holy site. Involvement by Arab Israelis in such attacks has also been rare.

Israeli police chief Roni Alsheikh said the weapons used had been brought into the holy compound.

The attackers opened fire on the Israeli officers from inside the site, he said, and i n response "a police force charged at the terrorists, killed two and wounded the third".

The wounded assailant used a knife to attack an officer checking him for explosives and was killed, the police chief said.

Mr Alsheikh said such an attack is "without precedent" at the holy site and an "incident of the highest severity".

The senior Muslim cleric of the Holy Land, Mohammed Hussein, was detained by police several hours after the shooting, according to his son. Omar Hussein said his father, who is based at the shrine, was taken to a police station in the Old City. He was released a few hours later.

Meanwhile, a relative said the three assailants were from the Jabareen clan - two 19-year-olds and a 29-year-old.

They were devout Muslims and frequently visited the shrine, travelling to Jerusalem by bus from their homes in northern Israel, the relative said.

The younger men belonged to a kick-boxing club and the older one was unemployed because of health problems, Yehiyeh Jabareen said. He added that clan members are in shock over the shooting.

The two killed policemen were members of Israel's Druze community, followers of a secretive offshoot of Islam. Unlike the majority of their fellow Arabs in Israel, many Druze serve in the Israeli security forces.

In other violence on Friday, Palestinian medical officials said an 18-year-old was killed in clashes with soldiers near the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

The Israeli military said troops opened fire after Palestinians hurled explosives and blocks at them.

AP

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