JERUSALEM — Israeli police shot dead an Arab man outside an entrance to the most prominent holy site in Jerusalem on Saturday morning, in an episode that threatened to escalate tensions in the city at an already volatile time.
Police said in a statement officers had detained the man due to a separate incident, before he seized and fired a police officer’s gun, killing him in self-defense. Police described the man as a terrorist.
In a conflicting account, Palestinian news media reported that he was killed in a scuffle after he intervened to prevent the attack of an Arab woman. Neither version could be immediately confirmed.
The shooting took place on the doorstep of the Aqsa Mosque, a holy site 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 site of two ancient Jewish temples in ancient times.
The dead man was identified by police as a 26-year-old man from Hura, an Arab town in southern Israel.
His shooting threatened to spark another round of unrest at the site, which both Israelis and Palestinians consider an essential part of their national stories. Clashes there often occur during times of greater tension in the region, particularly during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began a week and a half ago.
Confrontations on 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 flare-up at the compound during Passover and Ramadan this year, which will converge this week for the second time in three decades. The overlapping festivals will drive more Jews and Muslims to the site than usual, raising the risk of confrontation, especially if police continue to allow Jewish activists to pray there, in violation of a decades-old convention.
Israel captured the site from Jordan during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and later annexed it. For years, Israeli authorities have prevented Jews from praying there, suspicious of angering Muslims. But in recent years, the police have started silently allow itincreasing Palestinian resentment.
Jews consider it the holiest site in Judaism, while Muslims believe it was the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.