The two Israeli policemen have been identified as Haiel Sitawe, 30 and Kamil Shnaan, 22. They were both members of the Druze community.
Officer Shnaan was the son of former Israeli Druze Knesset member Shachiv Shnaan. His engagement party to his girlfriend was to be held next week. Officer Sitawe leaves behind a wife, Irin, a three-week-old son, his parents and three brothers.
According to police, the attackers came from the Temple Mount shortly after 7:00 in the morning. They walked toward the Lions Gate exit, then opened fire at the Israelis.
The attackers escaped in the direction of the mosques on Temple Mount, before being pursued and shot dead by policemen. Two rifles and a pistol were found on their bodies.
The attackers were later named by the Shin Bet as 29-year-old Muhammad Ahmad Muhammad Jabarin, and 19-year-olds Muhammad Hamed ‘Abd al-Latif Jabarin and Muhammad Ahmad Fadel Jabarin, Israeli Arab residents of the northern Israeli town of Umm el-Fahm.
Prior to the attack, one of the terrorists posted a selfie on Facebook of himself and another attacker with the caption in Arabic: “Tomorrow our smile will be sweeter”, which attracted anti-Semitic comments.
While the attack was praised by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A spokesperson for Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he had “made it clear Israel would take all necessary actions to maintain security on the Temple Mount, without changing the status quo”.
UK Middle East Minister Alistair Burt “strongly condemned” the “horrific” attack, and said his “thoughts are with the victims and their families”.
Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism – it is where the two destroyed Jewish Temples were located.
The site is known as the Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) by Muslims, and now contains the Dome of the Rock as well as the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is considered to be the third holiest site in Islam.
Despite the centrality of the site for Jews, after capturing the Old City and reuniting Jerusalem in 1967, Israel left the administration of the Temple Mount under the authority of the Islamic Waqf council, and control is given to each religious authority over their respective holy sites.
The status quo agreement allows a small number of non-Muslims to visit the Temple Mount during restricted hours in between Muslim prayers, but only Muslims are allowed to pray there. Jews are currently only permitted to visit the site in small numbers, but are banned from praying at the site for fear it may provoke a violent response.
Security at the Muslim entrance to the site, where the terrorists are believed to have entered, is far less rigorous than the non-Muslim entrance.
Israel actively upholds the existing status quo, according to which non-Muslims can visit the Temple Mount at fixed times, but are not permitted to conduct any prayers.
There have been over 390 terror attacks and attempted attacks carried out over almost two years against Israelis, resulting in the deaths of 48 Israelis and four foreign nationals and over 760 injuries.
Tensions at the Temple Mount and across Israel and the West Bank have been agitated in recent years by inflammatory false allegations from the Palestinian Authority and Fatah accusing Israel of planning to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque and other Muslim holy sites.
In September 2015, PA President Abbas vowed to prevent the “filthy feet” of Jews from “defiling Temple Mount”.
In the same statement on PA TV, Abbas declared: “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem… With the help of Allah, every shahid (martyr) will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward”.