JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli authorities have arrested dozens of Palestinians after a deadly shooting rampage in Jerusalem raised fears of a surge in violence during this week’s Yom Kippur holiday, police said Monday.
Sunday’s attack saw a 39-year-old Palestinian open fire from a car before being shot dead by police in Jerusalem, in an attack that killed a police officer and 60-year-old woman, both Israelis.
Israeli media reported Monday that he used an M16 rifle issued by the Israeli military in the shooting, though that has not been confirmed by authorities.
The attacker, who was reportedly scheduled to begin a prison term on the same day, was killed by police after he fled into an east Jerusalem neighbourhood.
The shooting rampage came at a time of increased Jewish visitors to the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in east Jerusalem for the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, which was last week, and Yom Kippur, which begins Tuesday evening.
The same increase typically occurs for the Jewish Sukkot holiday that takes place next week.
The site is holy to both Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.
Tens of thousands of Jews also visit the nearby Western Wall during the holidays.
Both sites are located in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed.
Last year’s Jewish high holidays led to clashes and marked the start of an upsurge in Palestinian gun, knife and car-ramming attacks.
The arrests after Sunday’s attack included 31 Palestinians seeking to participate in celebrations in memory of the assailant as well as members of his family in east Jerusalem, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told army radio.
Some 15 other Palestinians were arrested for throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at security forces in east Jerusalem, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
The military said it has also made preparations to demolish the home of the attacker, a practice Israel often employs in a bid to deter others from violence.
In addition, police are increasing deployments throughout Israel and Jerusalem for the holidays, with more than 3,000 to be deployed to the city.
Israelis have been concerned that the attack may inspire copycats.
The use of a sophisticated rifle also led to worries as it was a departure from the more typical use of knives or homemade guns.
Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, welcomed the attack and said the assailant was a member, but did not claim responsibility.
– Defender of Al-Aqsa? –
The attacker, Misbah Abu Sbeih, was from the Silwan area of east Jerusalem, located just outside the Old City and near Al-Aqsa.
He was known as an activist for the “defence” of the holy site and was said to have belonged to an informal group of Muslims, called the Mourabitoun, dedicated to the cause.
Israel banned the group last year, accusing it of inciting hate.
In his last public Facebook post on October 7, Abu Sbeih wrote about his longing for the holy site and said “Al-Aqsa is a responsibility you have been entrusted with”.
Palestinian media said he was due to begin a four-month prison term on Sunday for attacking an Israeli police officer in 2013.
Because of those circumstances, questions have been raised over why Israeli security forces were not keeping a closer eye on him.
Violence since October 2015 has killed 232 Palestinians, 36 Israelis, two Americans, one Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese national, according to an AFP count.