JERUSALEM, April 1 (AP) — Israeli police shot and killed a man they said tried to snatch an officer’s gun at the entrance to Jerusalem’s holy site early Saturday, sparking a firestorm. Fears of further violence amid heightened tensions at the Flashpoint compound.
Palestinian worshipers who were at the site’s entrance Saturday morning gave different accounts, saying police fired at least 10 shots as the man tried to stop them from harassing a woman who was on her way to the holy site. The Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, is located in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. The compound is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.
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Police said the man killed was Mohammad Alasibi, 26, from the Bedouin Arab village of Houla in southern Israel. The village council demanded a thorough investigation into his killing and staged a general strike on Saturday in protest.
Hours after the incident, the muddy stone alley leading to the al-Aqsa mosque was still stained with blood.
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Alasibi’s family said he was a doctor who had recently passed his exams and received a doctor of medicine degree in Romania. He returned home a month ago to care for his ailing father while trying to get certified in Israel, his cousin said.
“He was a polite, kind man, from a family of doctors who went to Al Aqsa for spiritual reasons,” said his cousin, Fahad Alasibi. “If you want us to believe he tried to assault police, show us the security footage.”
A police spokesman disputed the Palestinian account, insisting that no women walked to the compound at midnight because it was closed to tourists under an agreement with the Jordan-controlled Islamic trust known as Waqf.
Still, dozens of people attempted to spend the night at mosques during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, prompting Israeli police to intervene and attempt to evict worshipers.
Alasibe first aroused suspicion when he walked towards the closed compound, a police spokesman said. After being pulled over for questioning, Alasibi jumped on top of one of the officers and grabbed his gun, firing two shots at the officer as the officer struggled to restrain him, the spokesman said after being pulled over for questioning.
Police described the incident as an attempted terrorist attack and said they shot him in self-defense. No officers were injured. There were no cameras on the interior walls of the compound to capture the incident, the spokesman said.
Palestinian worshipers at the compound on Saturday disagreed. Noureddine, 17, who lives nearby and declined to give his last name for fear of reprisals, said he saw Alasibi confront police as they headed to the Al-Aqsa mosque. Mosque stopped a female worshipper. Alasibi’s relationship to the woman is unclear. He said there was some sort of disagreement between Alasibe and the officer before he heard a dozen shots.
“There’s nothing to justify so many guns,” he said, pointing to chaotic footage he captured showing Palestinian hawkers and worshipers screaming amidst the sound of bullets being fired in rapid succession. “They were fired at close range.”
His cousin Fahd said Alasibi was worried about traveling to Al Aqsa from Israel’s Negev Desert because his ailing father was dependent on him.
“But he went because it meant a lot to him to pray there during Ramadan,” he said.
The city’s disputed compound has been a focus of conflict in the past, especially during times of unrest in Israel and the West Bank.
Fears of an escalation in Jerusalem have intensified this year as violence in the occupied territories under the most right-wing government in Israel’s history has surged, with the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Israeli police stepped up their presence as thousands of Muslim worshipers flocked to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Friday passed peacefully as more than 200,000 Palestinians gathered in the courtyard for midday prayers.
After the incident, police forced Palestinian traders and worshipers to leave the area, beating him and others with batons, Noor al-Din said. Israeli police briefly closed the site before reopening it for dawn prayers.
In the past, confrontations at the hilltop compound have sparked wider violence in the area. Clashes at the site in May 2021 fueled a bloody 11-day war between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers.
The convergence of Ramadan and the Jewish holiday of Passover this year could increase the potential for friction as the Old City receives an influx of pilgrims.
Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the occupied West Bank has surged over the past year.
At least 86 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli or settler gunfire this year, according to an Associated Press tally. Palestinian attacks on Israelis killed 15 people during the same period. Israel said most of the victims were militants.
But stone-throwing youths protesting police incursions and those not involved in the confrontation were also killed. (Associated Press)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)