Israel launched a crackdown following a shooting attack in Jerusalem on Sunday that left two Israelis and the Palestinian gunman dead.
Though a gag order prevents Israeli media from publishing the name of the slain attacker, Palestinian outlets identified him as Misbah Abu Sbeih, a 39-year-old from Silwan, a neighborhood near the Old City of Jerusalem.
The shooting began Sunday morning at a light rail stop across from Israeli police headquarters near Ammunition Hill in occupied East Jerusalem. An Israeli woman, Levanah Malichi, 60, was critically wounded and later died from her injuries, and a man was moderately wounded.
“Another victim was then shot and moderately wounded at the nearby Clermont-Ganneau Street intersection. The assailant then fled to Sheikh Jarrah, where two Israel Police officers were wounded, one critically and one moderately,” the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported.
One of the officers, Yosef Kirme, 29, died of his injuries. Kirme was a member of Yasam, a militarized unit of Israel’s police force.
A video of the scene shows Israeli forces shooting at Abu Sbeih’s car:
Prominent Jerusalem activist
Abu Sbeih was a prominent figure in Jerusalem, and was part of a group of volunteer defenders of the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, the site of frequent incursions by Israeli settlers and right-wing provocateurs. Known as the murabitoun, the volunteer formation has been outlawed by Israel.
On Saturday, Abu Sbeih told the Ma’an News Agency, a Palestinian media outlet, that he was planning to turn himself in to Israeli authorities the next day to serve a four-month prison sentence for allegedly assaulting a police officer in 2013.
Ma’an reported that Abu Sbeih had spent a year in prison on separate charges of “incitement” over posts he had made on Facebook.
“Among the posts he was imprisoned for were: ‘We sacrifice our souls and our blood for you al-Aqsa,’ and, ‘we sacrifice our children for al-Aqsa,’” Ma’an reported.
In early October Abu Sbeih was banned from East Jerusalem for one month, and he was previously hit with a travel ban and forbidden from entering al-Aqsa mosque for six months.
Abu Sbeih is one of approximately 250 Palestinians killed since October 2015, when a new phase in violent confrontation with Israeli forces emerged. More than 30 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians during that time, as well as two US citizens.
Most of those Palestinians were killed during alleged, attempted or actual attacks against Israeli soldiers, police and civilians. Palestinian attackers acted alone, or in small groups, and independent of command from armed factions. Their weapons were mainly kitchen knives and cars; in only a small fraction of the incidents did Palestinians open fire on Israelis.
In a handful of cases, Palestinians used pistols and improvised firearms. Abu Sbeih is the first attacker over the past year to use a standard assault rifle – an M-16 – according to Haaretz.
Also in contrast to previous incidents, the Hamas resistance group’s West Bank branch claimed Abu Sbeih as one of their own. Hamas noted that the Jerusalem shooting came on the anniversary of the 1990 al-Aqsa mosque massacre.
On 8 October that year, approximately 20 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces following provocation by Temple Movement activists who seek to destroy al-Aqsa mosque and replace it with a third Jewish temple.
The alignment of the Jerusalem shootings and the massacre anniversary is “an indication that the Palestinian people cannot forget or disregard any crime against their holy city,” Hamas stated.
Hamas leaders Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh also phoned Abu Sbeih’s family and offered their condolences and saluted what they called his martyrdom.
Fatah, the Hamas party’s bitter rival which controls the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, declared a day of mourning following Abu Sbeih’s death, Ma’an reported.
Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan blamed Facebook and other social media platforms for Sunday’s attack. “It is scandalous that Facebook reopened Hamas’ pages last week in the wake of pressure from the Palestinian street,” he said, according to Haaretz.
Israel and Facebook have agreed to work together to remove “incitement” from the social media platform, an Israeli cabinet minister has previously claimed. Facebook has downplayed its cooperation with the Israeli government.
Following Sunday’s attack the deputy mayor of Jerusalem vowed to “punish” residents of East Jerusalem, accusing them of “animal behavior.”
“Let’s put all the cards on the table. The people in East Jerusalem want to kill us and destroy us. Why do we need to give them a new chance every day?” Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, who chairs the municipality’s planning and building board, said during a radio interview.
“We have to take responsibility here. And I am going to give an example. I took all the construction plans related to East Jerusalem off the agenda. I shelved all of the plans. They say carrots and sticks. There are no carrots left, only sticks,” he added.
Raids and arrests
Israel launched a series of punitive measures following Sunday’s attack.
Israeli forces stormed the Jerusalem-area town of al-Ram on Monday morning and detained Abu Sbeih’s 17-year-old daughter Iman, according to Ma’an. Relatives told the news agency that soldiers questioned the girl and Abu Sbeih’s wife before taking the teenager into custody.
On Monday, Iman Abu Sbeih made a video statement that went viral on social media, in which she praises her father’s attack and describes their close relationship.
Seven Palestinians were injured after confrontations erupted when Israeli forces raided al-Ram on Sunday, Ma’an reported.
A photographer with the Associated Press was lightly injured by Israeli forces while covering the confrontations.
The photographer, Majdi Mohammed, told the news agency that “one of the Israelis cursed him and ordered him to leave. He said that as he turned around to leave, he was shot from close range in the back of his shoulder, an area that was not covered by his protective vest.”
The Foreign Press Association stated that the incident was “the latest in a string of attacks by Israeli border police on journalists.”
Two Israeli soldiers were injured by stones thrown by residents.
Another home belonging to the Abu Sbeih family in the town of Kufr Aqab was raided on Sunday.
During the raids on the homes in Kufr Aqab and al-Ram, army engineers measured the houses in preparation for demolishing them, relatives of Abu Sbeih told Ma’an. Soldiers removed posters, flags and photographs of Abu Sbeih which had been displayed in al-Ram.
Israel has demolished homes belonging to the families of Palestinian attackers and suspected attackers over the past year.
More than 50 Palestinians were detained during overnight raids in the West Bank, more than half of them in the Jerusalem area.