Friday, February 19, 2016

19-Feb-16: Outside Damascus Gate this morning: another Arab-on-Israeli stabbing attack

Security outside Damascus Gate [Image Source]
It's a delightful late-winter Friday here in Jerusalem: blue skies, balmy breezes, unseasonably warm air, the Muslim Sabbath, the eve of the Jewish Day of Rest.

A perfect morning for today's sixth annual Menachem Begin Run which has gone off without a hitch. Also an ideal time for certain kinds of people to attempt murder. 

At Damascus Gate, one of the two major entry points to Jerusalem's Old City and known to Israelis by its Hebrew name Sha'ar Shechem or the Nablus Gate, a man armed with a knife, attacked a pair of Israeli Border Guard officers providing security for the entering and exiting throngs. The attacker struck from behind the backs of his victims, according to AFP. A video clip is being shown at this hour on the Aljazeera Arabic-language network and YouTube.

Times of Israel says he's a 20-year-old Arab male from Kafr 'Aqab [كفر عقب], regarded as one of East Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods even though it is located far closer to Ramallah where the PA sits than it is to the rest of Israel's capital city. Ynet gives the attacker's name as Mohammed Abu Khalaf, The attack happened at about 9:00 am. The knife man was stopped by police shots and died of his wounds. He was the holder of an Israeli ID card.

Both officers are injured. One suffered blows to the upper body; the other has an injured arm. 
Both are in their early 20s, and both are being treated for their wounds at Jerusalem’s Shaarei Zedek Medical Center hospital.

The Times of Israel report notes that the area around Damascus Gate
is especially tense on Fridays when thousands of Muslim worshipers pass through the gate to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City’s Temple Mount.
Ma'an News Agency says this is the Israeli identification
card of the stabber [Source]
It might have said, but did not, that the throngs of Muslim faithful continued their comings and goings unimpeded in any meaningful sense. An article posted just yesterday on the website of Al-Monitor ["Why the Damascus Gate is more important than ever", Shlomi Eldar, February 19, 2016] says Damascus Gate has emerged as
"a holy site. Young Palestinians post images of it, with and without photos of dead assailants, to which they add verses from the Quran or from contemporary poetry. These verses praise the “gate of bravery,” which will herald salvation and redemption, that is, the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital... The Israel Defense Forces and security establishment are well aware that Damascus Gate has become a pilgrimage site for assailants from across the West Bank... Since the attack that killed [Hadar Cohen, 19, shot dead by three Arab assailants just two weeks ago] on who had just finished basic training, only experienced officers are being deployed in that area... Following a recent assessment of the situation by the defense establishment, and especially after the attack in which Cohen was killed, it was decided to pursue a strategy of “containment.” In other words, so long as the stabbing attacks are being perpetrated by young, unaffiliated and inexperienced assailants, all that is required is the deployment of trained and qualified troops. There is no need to further beef up security at Damascus Gate. Setting up roadblocks and electronic checkpoints would not only severely damage tourism in Jerusalem, but would also have diplomatic and psychological ramifications. Separation roadblocks in the Old City in general and at Damascus Gate in particular could be construed as the de facto partition of the city.At this stage, as long as the intifada largely remains knife attacks by lone attackers, the defense establishment prefers to take calculated risks, harsh as the price being paid might be."
Our sense is that if Eldar at Al-Monitor is right in his assessment, most Israelis would be shocked to know of the mortal risks being taken by the authorities over their heads and on their backs.

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