JERUSALEM – Israeli police shot dead an Arab man on Saturday morning outside the entrance to Jerusalem’s most prominent holy site, in an episode that risked heightening tensions in the city at an already volatile time.
Police said in a statement that officers had taken the man into custody for a separate incident, before he grabbed and fired a police officer’s gun, prompting them to kill him in self-defense. Police described the man as a terrorist.
In a conflicting account, the Palestinian media reported that he had been killed during a fight after he had intervened to prevent the assault of an Arab woman. Neither version could be immediately corroborated.
The shooting occurred on the threshold of the compound of the Aqsa Mosque, a holy place for both Jews and Muslims. The site has been used as a mosque for over a millennium, but is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, because it was the ancient location of two ancient Jewish temples.
The dead man was identified by police as a 26-year-old from Hura, an Arab city in southern Israel.
His shot risked sparking a new round of riots at the site, which both Israelis and Palestinians consider an essential part of their national narratives. Clashes frequently occur there during times of heightened tension in the region, particularly during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began a week and a half ago.
Clashes at the site in May 2021 contributed to the outbreak of an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist militia that controls the Gaza Strip.
For months, diplomats and officials have warned of the possibility of another blast at the compound during Easter and Ramadan this year, which will converge next week for the second time in three decades. The overlapping festivals will bring more Jews and Muslims to the site than usual, raising the risk of confrontation, particularly if police continue to allow Jewish activists to pray there, in contravention of a decades-old convention.
Israel captured the site of Jordan during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and later annexed it. For years, the Israeli authorities prevented Jews from praying there, wary of angering Muslims. But in recent years, the police have begun to tacitly allow it, increasing Palestinian resentment.
Jews consider it the holiest site in Judaism, while Muslims believe it was the place from where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.